Every day little Mohammed Salem roams the streets of Mosul, left with no choice but to hawk tissues after his father was killed by extremists who overran Iraq’s second city.
A year on from Iraqi forces announcing the “liberation” of Mosul from the IS group, the scars of the nine-month offensive to oust the militants are still visible in the city.
After losing parents either in the battle or during IS’s brutal three year occupation of Mosul, dozens of children have turned to street peddling or begging to survive.
“I sell tissues… I go out every day from seven in the morning to 10 at night,” says 12-year-old Salem.
His mother’s only child, Salem hopes to scratch out a living for the two of them.
According to the group Orphan’s Joy in Nineveh, encompassing Mosul and the wider province, there is no official data on the number of children who have lost their parents.
But the group’s research has pointed to the “presence of 6,200 orphans in Nineveh, of which 3,283 whose parents were killed in the latest events in Mosul”, the organisation’s head, Kedar Mohammed, said.
Mosul’s two orphanages — one for boys and one for girls — have seen large numbers of children aged six to 18 seeking shelter, according to administrators.
Each day, dozens of children spread out across Mosul’s intersections and traffic signals to ask for money.
Thin and dressed in tattered clothes, they trail pedestrians and extend hands to passing cars. Some wash windows or sell tissues and water.
“My family was killed and our house was destroyed in the bombardment of the Old City,” 10-year-old Ali Bunyan said.
“I have no relatives now. I have to beg to support myself… I’ve been unable to find work because I’m young,” said Bunyan.
Nineveh provincial council member Khalaf al Hadidi said that “until now, there is no real project or study either from the federal or local government to deal with this phenomenon”.
Finding a solution was becoming increasingly important, he said, “especially as the street children are exposed to various kinds of exploitation”. Residents say gangs are turning the street children into organised groups, or forcing them to pay a fee to beg in public places.
According to social researcher Fatima Khalaf, “conditions in Mosul have left children vulnerable to numerous violations in the street”.
“If they are left out in the streets… they will become useless members of society,” she said. — AFP