Human Rights

Emergency programme set up in Mosul for children of 'unknown' parents

By Khalid al-Taie

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Iraqi children, who witnessed a suicide attack as people were escaping the Old City of Mosul, react on June 23rd. The government has since rolled out an emergency plan to care for children who have been orphaned. [Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP]

The Iraqi government on Monday (July 24th) announced it has set up an emergency programme to care for children of unknown parentage found in Mosul.

In recent days, according to various media reports, "dozens" of orphaned children have been pulled from the rubble of Mosul buildings, some of whom are believed to be the offspring of suicide bombers.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, in co-ordination with the government crisis management cell, aims at "adopting a humanitarian approach conforming to international standards in dealing with children of unknown parents", said Abeer Chalabi, head of the ministry's Women and Child Welfare Authority.

"The programme targets all children whose parents’ fate is unknown," she told Diyaruna, adding that in some cases it remains unclear whether their parents were killed during the battles or if they are still alive.

The programme will include the abandoned or orphaned children of "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) fighters, she added.

The ministry is "to receive these children from the Iraqi security forces and refer them to hospitals and medical centres for health treatment and psychological rehabilitation before being transferred to orphanages”, she said.

Attempts to identify lone children

"Photos and descriptions of the Iraqi children will be published in the media, so their parents or relatives can identify them," Chalabi said.

If the children are identified, they will be handed over to their families after the familial connection has been verified, she said, noting that to date, 15 children have been handed over to their parents.

If no one claims them, however, they will remain in the custody of the orphanage for a full year, and will then be available for adoption, in accordance with stringent legal procedures and screening of prospective adoptive parents.

In the case of non-Iraqi children, the ministry will co-ordinate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to evaluate the proper measures to repatriate them, Chalabi said.

"The ministry recently admitted four foreign children believed to be of Chechen parentage," she said, anticipating that there is likely to be an increase in the number of rescued children of unknown parentage.

Since Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi declared the battle for Mosul over two weeks ago, a pocket of ISIS fighters has remained in the Old City.

Coalition forces have been attempting to dislodge them via airstrikes, and it is believed that most ISIS fighters killed during the final battles were foreigners who fought to the last, leaving behind scores of orphans.

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