Photo: Afif Sarhan/IRIN
|Child beggars are a common sight in the streets of Baghdad.|
BAGHDAD, 11 February 2007 (IRIN) – Ahmed Saffar, 7, has been forced to beg on the streets of Baghdad in order to eat. An orphan with two brothers and one sister, Ahmed hangs around all day near a traffic light, asking for money from each driver who stops.
“Uncle, uncle, give me money to eat,” is his most common opening line. “Sometimes they give me some money; sometimes, when I insist, they hit me. Women never help and the windows of their cars are always closed but old people are the best ones,” Ahmed said.
“I have no option. I and my brothers work in the streets, begging in different places. I am the youngest but usually the one who makes more money. My sister is always with me and together we can make enough to eat by the end of the day,” he added.
Ahmed said he would rather beg than steal and that he had started begging before his parents died because they were a poor family. He said his mother died in Fallujah in August 2004. She was visiting her parents when their house was bombed by US-led coalition forces.
His father fell ill and could not work so he sent his children out to beg. If they did not come home with enough money, he would beat them, Ahmed said. His father died of kidney failure in April 2005.
|We are happy even though we sleep in the open, in a garden with only two blankets. I hope one day I will help all child beggars in Iraq.|
“Now they are dead but my brothers treat us well. We are happy even though we sleep in the open, in a garden with only two blankets. I hope one day I will help all child beggars in Iraq,” Ahmed said, grinning from ear to ear before excusing himself and running after an expensive-looking car.
Ahmed is one of thousands of homeless children throughout Iraq who survive by begging, stealing or scavenging in garbage for food.
Only four years ago, the vast majority of these children were living at home with their families.
“Every day when I go to work or pick up my sons from their schools, a child comes near my car asking for money. It is hard to ignore them as so many children are now in the streets begging for food and material help,” said Ali Mussawi, president of the local NGO Keeping Children Alive (KCA).
“They speak and swear like adults, putting the name of Allah [God] in the middle of all their sentences. Sometimes, when their hunger is severe, you can see a child is seemingly not afraid to steal in order to eat,” Mussawi added.
Deteriorating economic situation
According to the NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI), the deteriorating economic situation in Iraq is the main reason for the increase in the number of street children since the occupation of the country began in 2003. The next major contributor is the increase in the number of widows countrywide.
“The economic situation of the Iraqis is decreasing month after month. Lots of families are using their children to get additional income, which they can get through begging. There are also families who send their children to work,” Cedric Turlan, information officer for the NCCI, said.
|The increasing number of widows and orphans, and the terrible [security] situation, the families’ needs have increased as has the number of street children.|
“In addition, with the increasing number of widows and orphans, and the terrible [security] situation, the families’ needs have increased as has the number of street children.
“Of course, when children are not going to school anymore, there is nothing you can do to keep them off the streets. When children are in school, they are not in the street and teachers and educators can also have an impact on families,” Turlan added.
There are several centres working with street children in Baghdad and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, in conjunction with NGOs, is working to provide financial or social support to families so as to prevent them sending their children to work or beg.
“Unfortunately, with the current situation – I mean the difficulty of access and the security matter, and sometimes the lack of funds – these projects are very much reduced and have become very difficult to implement,” Turlan said.
“Iraq has signed the conventions related to the rights of the children, but their implementation is also much reduced now, certainly because of insecurity. So the main concern is the future of Iraqi children in general: what will be their future?”