Children Disappear across Iraq

By Wassim Bassem for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

The Baghdad Operations Command announced the release of two kidnapped children from southern Baghdad on Aug. 20. The crime itself was no surprise, as the abduction of children has become a serious and common social problem in Iraq.

This summer, a UN report confirmed that 1,496 Iraqi children have been abducted during the past 36 months and few have been seen again. In one rare case, on Aug. 3, a kidnapped child was released from captivity and his kidnapper arrested in Baghdad.

Poor Iraqi families have been calling for help since June in Basra, where children are now being snatched from the streets or their homes. On June 22, the council of Al-Qurnah district in the Basra governorate warned about the rise of child abduction, demanding the security forces to take decisive actions against it. This kind of crime had previously affected the children of the rich.

Mostly, reported cases of child abduction are not dealt with systematically by the Iraqi police, noted Mohsin Ali Attia, a writer in the field of education in Babil governorate. “Intervention in these cases remains at the security level. There is no comprehensive treatment for this pressing issue,” Attia told Al-Monitor.

Capt. Abbas Fadil of the Babil police told Al-Monitor, “There are no sociologists or experts on child abduction. Children who are released from captivity are returned to their families without any psychological or social treatment and follow-up.”

Asked about his experiences with child kidnapping, Fadil said, “In December 2015, a child was gang raped after being forced to climb into a vehicle duct taped. Most of the cases are similar to this one, where children are being abducted by amateur gangs in the security chaos and lack of security measures. The motives are either financial, where criminals ask for ransom amounting to as much as $20,000, or the organ trade. Girls are kidnapped to be sold into sexual slavery,” he said.

Qassem Saleh, the head of the Iraqi Psychological Association, told Al-Monitor, “We relayed a message to the government and parliament that we are ready to employ our scientific expertise and to conduct the necessary research and study to help provide solutions to serious social threats like child abduction, but to no avail.”

He added, “This negligence is undermining the role of social and psychological research, despite the fact that there are many sociologists and other experts holding seminars to voice their findings … but [the government] does not invest in their capabilities and studies.”

The lack of social research in Iraq cannot be attributed to a dearth of specialists. Large numbers of university graduates in the relevant subjects cannot find work, while child abduction and other social issues continue to rise.

Mohammed Hussein, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Baghdad in 1987, was unable to find a job related to his major. “I had to work as a trader, although I am well aware that the community is in need of my expertise.”

Hussein, however, continues to follow social problems. He said, “Many studies have been conducted on the abduction of children, but none has made any tangible impact on the ground.”

He went on, “There have been modest attempts to support social research related to child abduction on the part of the local government, which is funding the field visits of researchers and other experts to districts and subdistricts in Basra governorate. Researchers are being offered a monthly stipend of around 250,000 dinars [$200] a month for educating children in schools and other places about this matter.”

Other modest steps are being taken to address child abduction, according to Abdul Aziz al-Zalimi, a parliament member on the Labor and Social Affairs Committee. Zalimi told Al-Monitor, “Last year, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs contracted with 1,200 social workers to conduct a field survey on ways to consolidate social protection and to find means of communication between social workers and families who face such social hardships.”

The government is not currently involved in any initiatives to find solutions to child abduction in Iraq. For instance, there is no kidnapping database for use by researchers and decision-makers.

Yousef Muhsen, who writes about political and social affairs for the Sabah newspaper, asked Al-Monitor, “Do the academic institutions in Iraq have the necessary scientific research on social illnesses? Does it have a database on child abduction cases and their effect on social and physiological structures?” He added, “What has been achieved so far in this sector is so little because of the lack of support and supplies from the government.”

A great deal of work is needed on finding solutions to child abduction in Iraq not only in the security field but also in the social and educational realms. The role of academics and professionals with training in social rehabilitation ought to be promoted in various state institutions, including police stations, schools, hospitals and orphanages, as Iraq struggles to fight this problem.

(Picture: UNICEF)

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