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Without Urgent Action, Millions Of Iraqi Children In Line Of Fire

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If you're a child in Iraq today, the odds of growing up in a safe and secure environment are not in your favour. According to a new UNICEF report, 3.6 million children in Iraq -- or one in five -- are at serious risk of death, injury, sexual violence, abduction or recruitment into armed groups.

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The situation is unacceptable for the international community as we work to achieve a new sustainable development agenda based on equity for all. One in three Iraqi children -- 4.7 million youth -- are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance; 50 children are abducted from their homes each month; 3.5 million children are missing out on their education; one out of every 25 children in Iraq dies before reaching their fifth birthday. Unfathomable.

After four decades of conflict, sanctions, violence, insecurity and economic stagnation, the situation for children in Iraq is dire. Not only are they suffering physical attacks of violence and witnessing unthinkable acts of horror that no child should ever experience (8.3 million children have been exposed to major distress since 2014), but they are missing out on their education -- their chance for a better life.

They are being forced to work, or even marry, just to make ends meet for them and their families. Currently, almost one million girls in Iraq were married before they were 15 years old -- twice as many as in 1990 -- and more than half a million children are estimated to be working -- also twice as many as 25 years ago. So many childhoods lost, so many bright lights that may never get the chance to shine.

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With access to basic services and infrastructure severely reduced (there have been 50 verified attacks on medical facilities since 2014), children have little place to turn when they get sick. This year, more than a quarter of a million babies will be born without medical care. And the one million children under 10 who fled their homes will face the increased risk of disease due shortages of safe water.

The crisis for children in Iraq represents a threat to peace, security and development for the whole country. If these children are not given the skills and support they need today, if their rights are not clearly protected, the country risks further chaos.

How can we allow children to miss out on their education? How can we not provide them with a safe, healthy and nurturing place to grow up?

But there is another less obvious question that also needs answering: What are the long-term consequences of inaction? The crisis for children in Iraq represents a threat to peace, security and development for the whole country. If these children are not given the skills and support they need today, if their rights are not clearly protected, the country risks further chaos.

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Canada has committed significant humanitarian funds in response to the crisis in Iraq, including more than $16 million to the No Lost Generation Initiative, supported by UNICEF, towards crucial education and child protection programs. Canada will also co-host the upcoming Pledging Conference in Support of Iraq in Washington, D.C., on July 20, 2016.

We must continue to support the children of Iraq to have a chance at a bright future - to be the country's future leaders, doctors, teachers, lawyers, farmers. We must take several urgent and concrete steps.

UNICEF is calling for urgent action to protect children's rights in Iraq. All parties to the conflict must immediately end the killing, maiming, abduction, torture, detention, sexual violence and recruitment of children. Attacks on schools and medical facilities and personnel must stop. Immediate lifesaving assistance must be increased to meet the needs of families fleeing violence. It is also critical to improve the access of all people across Iraq to life-saving essentials like water and health and education services.

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This may seem like a weighty workload for even the most committed, but the consequences of inaction will be even heavier to bear.

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