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Kamel Shiaa Prize Winning Article: Violence Is Spreading Among the Iraqi Children

3 June 2011 | PRESS RELEASE


The EJC and the Kamel Shiaa Foundation are pleased to announce that the first Kamel Shiaa Prize for Iraqi press freedom has been awarded to the Iraqi journalist Maryam Mohammed Jaafar for her article “Violence is spreading among the Iraqi children”. 

The jury, composed of six international journalists, chose the winner out of 33 candidates. It was unanimously decided that the strength of Jaafar’s article rests on its promotion of children’ s rights and intercultural dialogue. Jaafar will have the opportunity to spend three months in Brussels to report on subjects throughout Europe in addition to receiving skills training to further improve her craft under the auspices of the EJC.

Violence is spreading among the Iraqi children, by Maryam Mohammed Jaafar 

The car stopped suddenly in one of Baghdad’s streets. The driver came down to inspect the engine, asking the passengers to assist him to repair it. And after moments a large number of armed men, led by their leader, came waving their guns towards the passengers. The leader of the group shouted in the face of the passengers “Are you Sunni or Shiaa?” Replied one of the passengers “Shiaa”, the leader shouted “Kill him” and another asked “Are you Shiaa or Sunni?” He replied ”A Sunni”. The leader said “This is a wrong answer ‘Kill him…” 

This is not a scene from a film recording the killings in Iraq, but only a game played by the children in a suburb of Baghdad before their father calls them. “Come, O my children, it is the first day of Eid, let’s go to the city of fun fairs.” The dead regains standing position and holds guns and knives of plastic with the promise of resuming the game in the amusement park. 

Mohammed and his brothers, just like any other Iraqi children, spend the money of Eid to buy plastic guns in order to play a game of murder and terrorism. That game has spread recently among children and became their favourite one. In the northern Baghdad neighbourhood of Kadhimiya, the little Abbas, aged 11, is at a checkpoint near his home and always sits next to the guards trying to imitate them. His mother says she feels uncomfortable about Abbas since he does not leave his plastic gun as if living in a military barracks. And when he plays with his brothers at home he pulls his plastic gun in their faces and start screaming like insurgents. She adds that “when he gets some money he goes and buys a plastic pistol or rifle.” 

“I am afraid that one day he will carry a real weapon and pull it against others,” she adds. Lots of fathers and mothers in Iraq are complaining that their children have become addicted to tough games and expressed their fears that events in Iraq will affect their future behaviour. Some parents noticed that their children began to use violence with the younger siblings, and prefer isolation, withdrawal from community and fear the dark. In addition the use of bullying that enjoins others to listen to their words.

In a study published by the Iraqi Psychologists Association, the violence has affected millions of Iraqi children and became constituting a source of serious concern on future generations. The study urged the international community to assist to establish psychiatric units for children and mental health programs. 

Dr Muzaffar Jawad Ahmed, a researcher and teacher at the Centre for Psychological Studies and Educational Research in Baghdad, said that “the aggressive behaviour of children depends on two factors: one is the influential genetic, and the second is environmental. And this effect varies according to the social status of children. A child since the age of two tries to imitate others in their behaviour and starts with the family members, school, street, and so on.” Dr Ahmed pointed out that “different degrees of violence in children and the reason is that every child has energy which may be discharged through sports, play, violence, aggressive behaviour and often against the younger.” He adds: “our society is encouraging violence. The father tells his son when he goes to school: if someone hits you, try to hit back, but he does not inform him on the proper methods to resort to the school administration.” He adds that “the political systems of Iraq embarked on the militarization of society. A child every Thursday used to watch the flag raising ceremony and the launch of bullets for the flag, but he does not know the meaning of the flag, the national sentiment. He knows only what the rifle means.” 

He points out that “the violation of the child’s dignity, insulting physical and psychological contempt make him resort to violence when they cannot react to the insult, therefore, you see children use force with the younger.” He adds “the violence faced by the majority of children is a result of immediate trauma. When an explosion occurs, or when one of their parents is killed, the child loses his consciousness, collapses, gets nervous or immediate hysteria at the same time.” He points out that “the disorder begins to appear after the shock, ranging from two weeks to six months of the trauma in a form of sleep disturbance, depression, nightmares and self inward, will have greater effect than the immediate shock.” He emphasises that the Centre of Psychological Research and Educational Studies has the tools and rehabilitation techniques known worldwide for the treatment of mental disorders and a laboratory in which people with mental disorders can be rehabilitated through the images of virtual reality. 

The treatment extends from one month to six months, according to the situation. It is worth to note that the human in general can deal with all types of diseases without shame except two diseases, sexual dysfunction and mental illness. In addition to that a lot of parents do not accept the idea that their children may be living with disorder or self deviation. 

Note: The original article by Maryam Mohammed Jaafar was submitted in Arabic. The translation was provided by the late Kamel Shiaa’s family, who was directly involved in the selection and translation of the articles in competition for the prize.

Kamel Shiaa Prize
In 2010, the EJC joined the first Kamel Shiaa Prize award for Iraqi press freedom. Commemorating Iraqi intellectual and writer Kamel Shiaa, assassinated in 2008, the press award promotes intercultural dialogue through journalism. The competition, open to young Iraqi journalists, was won in 2011 by Maryam Mohammed Jaafar, for her excellent treatment of children’s rights and intercultural dialogue.