In December 2012, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released the results of a survey it conducted in 2011 on the state of women and children in Iraq. The report focused on education and health. Because of the country’s young population, the poll covered over half of the country. UNICEF found minor progress on some issues, but most of its results were negative.
UNICEF questioned 36,000 households in 2011. Over 55,000 women aged 15-49 were surveyed. This was the fourth poll done by the U.N. in Iraq on families. The previous ones were conducted in 1996, 2000, and 2006. The emphasis upon those two groups was especially important, because Iraq, like the rest of the Middle East and North Africa, has an extremely young population. Out of an estimated 33 million people, 16.6 million, or 50% were 18 or younger. Overall, Iraq had the second youngest median age in the region at 20.9 years in 2011. Only Yemen, at 18.1 years was younger. That meant that the survey’s results applied to more than half the population, and could provide important information about how they were doing.
In terms of progress, birth registration, infant mortality rates, immunization, gender parity in primary school, and school attendance all saw improvements. 99% of babies born in Iraq are now registered. At the same time, around 35,000 babies die each year. Infants five years old and under died at a rate of 37 per 1,000 in 2011. That was an improvement from 2010 when the World Health Organization reported 45 deaths per 1,000 children aged five or under. Helping to cut those numbers was the fact that 50% of children 18-29 months old received all their immunizations on time. In primary school there is nearly 1 girl for every boy student today. At that educational level there is also 90% registration and attendance. The high birth registration rate meant that women have been going to hospitals and health clinics, rather than having their babies at home. That offers them better care. That’s seen in the cut in infant mortality rates. The higher immunization rate, while still at only 50%, is probably a result of the greater registration of new births at hospitals as well. Likewise, the 90% registration and attendance at primary schools was a sign that more children were going to school than before, and opened up the opportunity for better jobs and education. That was likely due to the decrease in violence, which made it safer for kids to go to school.
Most issues asked about on the survey were either stalled or regressed. One was on nutrition. There, one in four children had stunted growth due to under nutrition. 4% of children five and under suffered from severe malnutrition. According to the World Food Programme, 1.9 million Iraqis overall were food deprived, but the situation had improved. In 2007, that affected 7.1% of the population, but by 2011 it had dropped to 5.7%. Although 90% of children attended primary school, only 40% finished. Every year, 450,000 primary aged kids either didn’t finish or dropped out. 40% of secondary aged children also drop out. This affects girls more, especially in rural areas. The result is that 30% of women aged 15-25 are illiterate. Infant childcare and practices also have major problems. Only three in 10 children are breastfed in the first month of life. Three out of four children with diarrhea and one in three with pneumonia are not treated correctly. Those are the two leading causes of death for babies. Cultural norms are also leading to children being mistreated at home. 80% of children 2-14 years old, 9.6 million total, have experienced violent discipline, meaning slapping or hitting by their parents. One in three children in that age range, 3.3 million, have suffered severe violent discipline including burning and biting. In Irbil and Sulaymaniya, 50% of girls have genital mutilation or cutting. The poor health practices are due to poverty and the lack of services in rural areas. There families lack access and information on best techniques for child rearing. Iraq suffers from a severe lack of schools. In 2012, the Education Minister said that the country needed 12,000 new school buildings. He estimated that 600 needed to be built a year. Instead, only 300 total had been constructed since 2005. To make the matter worse, the Ministry did not have the budget to meet this demand. Not only that, but its development plans went completely awry last year. The Education Ministry paid companies to tear down old facilities, but then never replaced them, because of a lack of money. In Diyala, for example, 100 schools were torn down last year, and never replaced. All those issues meant that Iraq was not going to have enough facilities anytime soon. The fact that girls are not as valued as boys, and are expected to help out with the family explains why they are not pushed to finish their schooling as much. Finally, the health system is corrupt and inefficient. In early 2012, the Health Ministry confiscated 4 tons of expired medicine. In March, it shut down 200 unlicensed pharmacies and destroyed 6 tons of bad medications. In November, the deputy head of the health committee in the Kurdish parliament said that 400 tons of expired and counterfeit drugs were shipped into Kurdistan last year. All of these together accounted for why so many issues regressed in the UNICEF poll. Even with violence decreasing that didn’t meant that corruption or government inefficiency had been solved. In fact, the end of the civil war means that more Iraqis are demanding services, placing greater pressure on the public sector.
Several factors have contributed to Iraq’s poor showing in the UNICEF survey. First, poverty still affects a large number of Iraqis. The official figure is 23% of the population. Those people lack adequate health care, educational opportunities, and high drop out rates. Iraq’s government also does a poor job providing basic services. The shortage of school facilities is a perfect example. Last year, the government knocked down more school buildings than it built in a completely misguided policy. That was a perfect example of the inefficiencies of the bureaucracy. The government also suffers from corruption, which is seen in the health sector. Not only that, but Iraq still suffers from the after affects of wars and sanctions. It is only just now coming out of these disruptions, and will take years to recover. That means while there will be small improvements here and there, overall, statistics for the country will remain poor for the near future in terms of health and education.
Abedzair, Kareem, “Iraq needs 12,000 new schools to accommodate hike in student population,” Azzaman, 3/21/12
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, 2011
Dazzayi, Saman, “100 unlicensed Iraqi pharmacies closed last month,” AK News, 5/14/12
Mohammad, Mowaffak, “Iraqi Kurds Suffering from Counterfeit Drugs,” Al-Hayat, 11/16/12
Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 7/30/10
Synovitz, Ron, “Iraqi Schools More Crowded Than Ever After Reconstruction Blunder,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 9/28/12
UNICEF, “The Situation of Children and Women in Iraq,” December 2012
World Food Programme, “Food Security, Living Conditions and Social Transfers In Iraq,” November 2012