Children are paying a heavy price one month into the Mosul offensive, with many seriously injured in the fighting or showing signs of intense psychological distress even if they make it to safety, Save the Children is warning. So far nearly 60,000 people have fled the city and its surroundings, including tens of thousands of children. Many more families are expected to try to escape and make their way to IDP camps as the offensive continues.
Up to a dozen children a day are being maimed as the fighting pushes deeper into the city, front-line medics and hospital doctors have told the charity. Even if they reach the relative safety of camps near Mosul without physical injury, Save the Children field staff now say children are displaying worrying signs of psychological distress.
Pictures drawn by children this week at one of the charity’s programmes in Qayyarah, 50 miles (80 kilometres) south of the city, featured tanks, soldiers with guns and people running away in terror. Field staff said one child was so distressed she would not talk, only spit. Others were quick to anger, a typical sign of stress, with fights between children frequently breaking out in the camp.
Save the Children has deployed a child protection team to provide emergency psychological first aid to children escaping the violence, and has set up safe spaces for children to learn and play. In Qayyarah Jad’ah camp, the charity is providing care for nearly 2,000 children with Child Friendly Spaces and tents for literacy and numeracy classes.
Deputy Country Director for Save the Children in Iraq, Aram Shakaram said the children had missed years of their childhood: “Many children have been through two years of ISIS and were then forced to flee through a war zone, and some told us they have seen people shot and hanged. Imagine what effect that would have on a child.
“In countless conflicts we have seen how a safe space can transform a child. It helps them get back on track, escape uncertainty, and recover from the trauma of war. “Life-saving aid like shelter, food and water are crucial in this crisis, but to help children recover from their ordeals, a safe space to learn must be considered a priority.”
An estimated 600,000 children remain trapped inside Mosul. One family in an ISIS-held part of the city told Save the Children they had recently been forced into a local school with 600 other people to be used as human shields. They were released after six hours when ISIS fighters decided to use relatives of police officers and Iraqi army soldiers instead. Mr Shakaram said more must be done to ensure the safety of civilians.
“It’s horrific that the only option these families and children have right now is to wave a white rag and pray they won’t get caught in the crossfire,” he said. “As this conflict pushes deeper into the city and becomes increasingly brutal, all parties must ensure civilians can flee safely and access humanitarian aid. Safe escape routes must be the priority, not an afterthought.”