Said Serwan, a lawyer in the Kirkuk court house, has never been as shocked as he has been in the last two years. The reason is the rise in the child abandonment and the government’s unresponsiveness to find a solution for abandoned children.
The latest case Serwan dealt with in 2020 was an infant who was dumped due to “suspicion of marital infidelity.” The suspicion later resulted in the divorce of the couple, and the infant was left in a neighborhood the day he was born.
Serwan stated that when the woman was pregnant, “the man accused her of infidelity, and as soon as the child was born, he dumped the child in a neighborhood.” The case is in the court, and the judge is yet to decide on it. However, what is clear is that the child has become the victim, as neither of his parents is willing to adopt him. The child has been admitted to a hospital and awaits for someone for adoption.
This is an example of tens of child abandonment recorded in the last two years in Kirkuk. Their abandonment is not the mere problem, but also the unknown fate they have been given.
Tens of Unresolved Examples
In the last week of March 2020, police officers found a dumped infant in a trash area in Al-Hawija district, southwestern Kirkuk. The police lack information on the parents of the infant, which is the latest case record this year.
In September 2019, cleaners at Kirkuk General Hospital found an infant dumbed in a toilet of the hospital. Health Directorate announced that the infant was found at 9:40 a.m. and was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit.
KirkukNow learned that the security forces later found the mother abandoned the child through the recorded films of the security cameras of the hospital.
The mother, after five days, on September 18, was killed by her family, according to a source from security forces, who spoke to KirkukNow. “The woman was not married and became pregnant by an unknown person. That is why her family killed her.”
The woman had lost her mom and was raised by her stepmother. After she was killed, one of her brothers and numerous other people were arrested and tried.
A two days old infant was found near the building of Kirkuk Police Department in March 2019.
At the time, Officer Farhad Mahmood, head of Azadi police station, said, “we took the infant to the hospital, and the tests showed the child was born three months early.”
“Generally, compared to the previous years, child abandonment has increased, especially in the poor neighborhoods and among the internally displaced persons (IDPs). The main reasons are poorness and marital infidelity,” stated lawyer Serwan, who has received several cases of abandoned children.
Officer Rizgar Abdullatif, head of combating family violence, stated that this year, they have received two cases; the mother of one of the abandoned child stated she does not have the financial ability to raise the child, and she is also divorced, and there is no information on the parents of the other dumped child.
He said, “whenever we are informed about an abandoned child, we will take the child and investigate the reason for the abandonment. Later, we transfer the case to the court.”
No orphanage for the infants
The increasing rate of child abandonment has forced the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) office in Kirkuk to open a particular case for the infants to monitor their situation in the province closely.
Sajad Jumma, head of the IHCHR office in Kirkuk, said the cases are sensitive, “we cannot decide upon the children because we do not know the identity of their parents. We have formed two groups, one of them investigate the cases, and the other spreads awareness in the education institutions.”
The problem IHCHR faces is that they cannot take care of the infants until the judges decide on their cases. Most of the time, the infants and children are admitted to hospitals, police, or Mukhtars of the neighborhoods.
“A few months ago, we were informed about an abandoned infant, we and the police took the infant and the orphanage and sent the case to the court. The judge decided that the infant had to be admitted to hospital, but they said they have no space left,” Jumma said.
This is the significant challenge the dumped infants face.
Kirkuk local administration has to options for the abandoned children. They can either move them to orphanages in Baghdad and Sulaimaniyah or allowing their adoption by families who are willing to raise them.
Jwan Hassan, who was a member of the Kirkuk provincial council for nearly 15 years and also was head of the Human Rights Committee at the council, said, “the problem was that we did not trust Baghdad orphanage to send them the abandoned children…we did not know how they were raised and educated… we did not know how they were legally dealing with them. Hospital is not the place for those children.”
She brought a child as an example, who was raised by the cleaners of a hospital in Kirkuk until she reached the age of five when a family in accordance with a decision of the court adopted her.
At the same time, opening an orphanage in Kirkuk has been proposed, but the central government has not approved it. “It requires a law as opening shelters for women who are threatened needs a law. The parliament has not acted on it.”
What is the solution?
The police send each abandoned infant for medical examinations. “If the infants are sick, we will treat them, feed them milk, and provide them with other necessities. Any family requested to adopt them, we will facilitate it and send their request to the court,” Karim Wali, former Kirkuk health director, stated.
“Most of the infants we have received were born outside of marriage, and later their mothers dumped them,” he said, “we have some infants remained in the hospitals, but after a few months, we admit them to the orphanage and our committees weekly monitor them.”
An abandoned infant who is less than a year old was moved to the orphanage by the police department. The infant, whose parents are unknown, was abandoned in a Kirkuk neighborhood.
Ali Ismail, director of an orphanage, asked the government to address the increasing cases of child abandonment and stated, “only build three rooms in the office, we can accommodate them, but now we cannot.”
Ismail’s orphanage is more for children whose parents cannot raise them or died.
“Infant dumping has increased, there has to be a plan to deal with it,” he said.
KirkukNow was not able to obtain an official statistics on the abandoned children, but now, there are four children who live in Sulaimaniyah orphanage, who were abandoned in Kirkuk, according to Omer Gulpi, head of Directorate of Social Development in Sulaimaniyah.
He reaffirmed, “in the Kurdistan Region, there is only one orphanage to receive infants, and we oversee that. The four infants we received were one day or a few days old, and our door to receive more infants is open.”
Numerous infants have been sent to the other orphanage in Baghdad.
Another barrier is that the central government does not allow the movement of the infants to Sulaimaniyah unless they are sent without informing them.
Najmadin Nuri, the program officer at the Kurdistan Save Children Organization, thinks that the best solution is that the Iraqi government can build an orphanage in each province or permits all the infants to be moved to the orphanage in Sulaimaniyah.
Nuri stated, “we are aware that the majority of illegitimate infants are dumped; neither the government nor the organization has a place to raise them.”
Illegitimate is used for infants who were born outside of marriage.
At the same time, several infants have been adopted, and several other parents have submitted formal requests to the court to adopt infants.
Sajad Jumma, head of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Right (IHCHR) office in Kirkuk, claimed, “we have submitted a proposal to Baghdad for the adoption of those children, but we have financial problems and cannot start implementing it at the moment, and the project also needs approval.”
“We think of the future of the children, when they grow up, they will enter the society, if we do not follow the cases, then the lives of tens of children will be at danger.”
According to the Iraqi Penal code, those who give birth outside of marriage will be fined and imprisoned. Jumma explained that this law is not practiced as people do not file a complaint against another for giving birth outside of marriage, and those children are not welcomed by society.
How are children adopted?
According to the law for Juvenile Care and the court’s instructions, anyone, who wants to adopt a child, should firstly submit a request to the “social observers” at the Juvenile court.
The families, who have submitted the request should fulfill the conditions; the social status and reputation of the family should not be bad, having the financial ability, the psychological and mental wellness, and should not have other children
Ari Mohammed, a lawyer, stated, “the social observers, with the help of a committee, will evaluate the eligibilty of families. Later their request will be approved, and their names will be listed.”
The court does not immediately let the infant to be adopted because complaints might be filled or the family of the infants might want to take him or her back, this is the reason for delaying the determination of the cases, according to Mohammed.
According to Juvenile law, approving the adoption of a child is in the authority of the head of the juvenile court. Mohammed said, “if the court decides on any child, the family who has submitted a request to adopt a child will be contacted.”
According to article 40 of the law, the family, who fulfills thee adoption requirements, will be given a child for a period of six months, and they will be monitored by the social observers.
“There are times that the court does not make its decision after the end of that period, and it gets extended for another six months in order to be ensured about the observation of the family. Later if it is noticed that raising the child is good, then the child will be given to the family, and the observation will be stopped.”
There were cases in which the child was taken back from the family because the reports of the observers showed that the child had not been raised and educated good, according to Mohammed.
The number of abandoned infants and children left, and the number of families willing to adopt them are increasing. The main problem is that there is not a place, like an orphanage, where the children are taken care of until the court decides on their cases.
“Actually, the procedure to give a child to a family can be finalized in a month, but the cases are sensitive and need more time… firstly because it is a responsibility to wait for the investigation of the police… secondly, there were cases in which the child was taken back from the family, at that time, the one who loses the most is the child and the court does not want to make a decision that is not in the interest of the child.”
There are significant steps that can be taken to heal the shock that Serwan has had in the last two years. Perhaps, the abandoned infants might not survive the lengthy procedure the court takes to decide on their cases as well as the injustice of the society.