Thursday, December 25, 2008

Iraq's Newly Bred Epidemic

Iraq's Children Drug Addicts, Dealers
By Afif Sarhan, IOL Correspondent

BAGHDAD — In new Iraq, many children do not go to school or play in the streets but rather hid in corners to take drugs or even worse sell them. Ahmed, 12, is one of them. "Smoking marijuana makes me happy even being orphan," the child, who has lost his parents to the bloody violence, told IslamOnline. net.

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"I like to feel the sensation that, for a period of time, can help me forget all the problems I have," said Ahmed, not his real name. "I do it as much as I want, until I feel safe again just like I used to feel before my parents were killed."

Experts say many children, especially orphans, have fallen prey to drugs over the past few years. "Prior to the 2003 US-led invasion, drug addiction, mainly among children, was practically non-existent, " said Ameer Mohammad Bayat, a psychologist working with child addicts.

He notes that in many cases children turn to drugs to lessen the pain and sufferings inflicted by the war. "Years of violence have driven those innocent to drugs." Other children, who suddenly found themselves the breadwinners of their families, also find their way to drug addiction on the streets, Bayat added.

UNICEF reports have warned that drug addiction is becoming more of a phenomenon amongst Iraqi children. There has been a 30 percent increase in addiction among children since 2005, according to specialists. Since last year alone, the number of child addicts jumped by nearly 10 percent, they estimate.

The problem goes far beyond addiction, with many children being trapped in a thriving drugs trade in new Iraq. "There is a huge market for drugs in Iraq where children are the main columns inside the drug dealing gangs," Yehia Khalil, who works for a local NGO tackling the issue in Baghdad, told IOL. He said gangs usually target children who lost a beloved one or those working on the streets. "The dealers offer job and relief, easily bringing drug dependence among those innocent kids."

It is not uncommon to see children selling drugs in some districts of the capital as well as in some poor neighborhoods in southern provinces. "Children can move easily delivering drugs without raising suspicion," says Khalil. The scenario is almost the same in all cases. Children roam the streets, showing themselves to residents who get used to their faces and when they need, they ask the child for the specific drug and quantity. After less than hour, another child delivers the drug and takes the money. Children can also find easier access to selling drugs near and inside schools.

Raid Abdullah, 13, is working for drug gangs. Everyday, he roams Baghdad streets looking for "clients". "My main clients are young men but women are also buying a lot and pay even better," he told IOL. "They [gang] pay me five percent from all my selling, and once a week I get some marijuana for my personal use," Abdullah said. "I have to divide the drug with my brother who found the job for me."

Experts lament that the children drug plight goes unnoticed by the government. "[The problem is] worsened as the government neglects the chaotic situation children are living in," said Bayat, the psychologist. He notes that the only help children get comes from independent aid agencies and volunteers, who usually face a tough, sometimes dangerous, mission. "Security issues make it harder for volunteers to reach dependent children and offer help, as armed drug dealers can anytime take revenge against aid agents who try take children off the streets." Khalil, the NGO worker, agrees. "Anyone who tries to help them [children] puts himself in harm's way."

He cites how two volunteers of his agency were killed last year while trying to take addict children to a rehab center. Rand, not her real name, was lucky enough to find somebody to help. She was forced by her addict uncle, whom she moved in with after her parents' death during the invasion, to sell drugs in order to get him free stuff. Soon after, she became an addict herself.

A couple of weeks ago, Rand was raped by a drug dealer who told her that he had bought her uncle's silence with a large quantity of cocaine. She managed to run away, and it was then that a local aid agency found the traumatized child and offered her treatment and protection. "I feel empty inside, but thank God there are still good people in this world who want to help people like me," she said tearfully. "Drugs are the worst things in life."

http://www.islamonl Satellite? c=Article_ C&cid=1230108463947 &pagename= Zone- English-News/ NWELayout

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