Photo: Afif Sarhan/IRIN
|As an orphan living in Baghdad’s streets, Fadhel, 11, steals to survive.|
BAGHDAD, 8 February 2007 (IRIN) – “I’m an 11-year-old boy who has never been to school – so I can neither read nor write. For the past two years I have been living on the streets of Baghdad, surviving on leftovers that I scavenge from garbage or by stealing from people and shop-lifting.
“When I first started, I was scared that at any time the police would catch me for stealing. Now it has become easy for me to steal. I have become an expert and the proof is the title my peers have given me. They call me ‘the young king’.
“People might be surprised to hear a child like me being happy for being an expert at stealing and looting things but in a country like Iraq, where most people are without homes and food, the hero is the one who can survive by whatever means.
“I’m an orphan and don’t know who my parents are. Nor do I know if they are alive or dead. I was taken into an orphanage when I was four years old and since then different people have been taking care of me. They were not good people. During [former president Saddam Hussein] Saddam’s time, police officers sometimes used to come and have sex with older boys.
“I ran away from the orphanage during the [US-led] invasion with another three boys in 2003. But three months ago they abandoned me as they discovered the world of drugs.
“Sometimes I feel lonely. The only thing that makes me happy at the end of the day is when I steal something which I can sell in a market to get some money to eat or something which I may use myself. If I don’t steal food, I usually steal things like electronic items. I never steal from people’s homes. I usually make about 5 or 10 [US] dollars a day.
“Five days ago, I stole a walkman in a shop in Mansour district [a high-class area of Baghdad]. No one saw me. When I told my friends in the street, they were surprised because no one had done this before because of the high security there. And I’ve never been caught. Now I’m their king. It’s good to be popular.
“I and many other children sleep together in an empty government building at Hay Jamia’a district [in Baghdad]. We keep a few things there because sometimes children from other groups come to steal from us. They may even kill you if you don’t give them what you have.
|It has become easy for me to steal. I have become an expert and the proof is the title my peers have given me. They call me ‘the young king’.|
“In Iraq, thieving is the most common profession today. Everybody steals – from very young children to elderly people. Sometimes gangs of thieves fight over an area to operate in.
“I am lucky to be able to steal only in two good neighbourhoods. For security, one week I operate in one neighbourhood and the following week in the other. If I continue stealing as I do, after one year I might have enough to buy a good bicycle to make life easier for me.
“People might see me as a criminal but what can I do without family support? Stealing is the easiest job in Iraq today and I’m happy to be in this world to be able to support myself.”