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Nineveh, Iraq: What Has ‘Coronavirus’ Done to Us?

Nawzat Shamdeen
Iraqi Journalist
May 6, 2020
Suicide, unemployment, domestic violence and the abandonment of children..
An abandoned child found by security personnel in a dump.

“His name is Dayyar, a month old baby, and I can’t raise him because I’m broke.” A brief glimpse of what was written, in Iraqi dialect, on a piece of paper tucked in a blanket in which a four-week-old baby was wrapped. The police found him on the ground in a narrow alley in the Shifa neighborhood in Mosul’s ancient Old City in northern Iraq, on the 20th of last April.

The curfew―imposed to combat the ‘Coronavirus’―tightened the noose around one 1.8 million citizens living in the city, which had already been suffering almost complete disruption of its economic movement, as a result of ISIS’s invasion and then the war to recover the city from them, which ended in mid 2017 along with the massive destruction to most of its infrastructure.

An officer holding the rank of Captain in the local police forces in the Nineveh, explained that the toddler’s papers were transferred, according to reasoned judicial order, to the Family and Child Protection Directorate to follow up on the legal proceedings in this regard. However, in order to offer him adequate care, his custody was temporarily handed over to Al-Batool Teaching Hospital for Maternity and Children.

The officer―who preferred to remain anonymous―said that he has been witnessing, by virtue of his job, many cases of children being abandoned in the city, all of them newborns only a day or two old. In usual times, it is thought that these babies are born out of wedlock, which is why they were rid of in this manner. However, Dayyar’s case was different, as he was a month old and found with written evidence, provided in one of his parents’ handwriting, explaining that they abandoned him due to not being able to afford his health care needs.

Repeated Cases

Likewise, but without the piece of paper, elements of the ninth emergency regiment in the new Mosul region found―early on Tuesday morning, April the 28th―a one-week old baby girl. She was also wrapped in a blanket and left in a dump.

“She was sleeping peacefully when I found her, placed over the garbage bags near the wall separating the street from a deserted land where there is a large number of stray dogs. I don’t know what would have happened to her if I were a little late in reaching her,” said the security man who found the baby sorrowfully.

He mentioned that his colleagues went through the same experience, two months ago, with a baby girl who was found on the ground in al-Tanak neighborhood west of Mosul. Her face had been mauled by cats, so they had to transfer her to the Public Hospital. She is better now and was transferred, two days ago, to the Orphanage in al-Zuhour region.

“I don’t understand why they leave their kids in dumpsters and on sidewalks. Don’t they have an ounce of mercy, in their hearts, that makes them―at least―put them in front of an orphanage or a mosque?” He asked anxiously.

No Place for Nursing Infants

The Social Welfare Directorate―in the Duhok Governorate in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq―announced through its manager, Sherzad Hamid, its willingness to provide accommodation for the baby girl. Moreover, he called on the local government in Nineveh to facilitate her transfer to his department to provide her with the necessary care.

This occurred because the orphanage in Mosul lacked the capabilities of nursing infants at her age, which is why those found that young are generally handed over to maternity and children for temporary care, but this is dangerous at the moment due to the spread of the ‘Coronavirus’.

After news about the children who were abandoned in Mosul went viral on social media, many called upon the local government in Nineveh and the central government in Baghdad to consider taking measures to ease restrictions on movement, like lifting the “Coronavirus” curfew, providing emergency assistance for destitute families, and accelerating the disbursement of compensation for those affected by the recent war, estimated to be around 40,000 claims for compensation that have not been fulfilled yet.

Representatives and officials declared, through their official accounts, their willingness to adopt the children―which triggered controversy―and they were criticized for trying to deal with the problem without making proposals to address their causes, especially since they are more than capable of taking the necessary decisions or enacting the necessary laws and legislation.

Basil Mukhtar, a lawyer who specializes in the personal status laws, was surprised that some representatives of the Nineveh governorate―who are members of the highest legislative authority in the country―were ignorant of the laws that are in force. They didn’t know that the Iraqi Law does not approve adoption, but approves “hosting” the children under several conditions, according to the legislation currently in place, specifically the Juvenile Welfare Act No. (76) of 1983.

This is different from adoption because the hosted child does not get the same rights as the rest of the family, and does not inherit anything like an adopted child would in real adoption scenarios. Instead, his guardians leave him a will in which they grant him less than the presumed share of their biological child, according to article no. 43 (2) of the same law.

Unprecedented Unemployment

Before the precautionary measures to combat the “Coronavirus”, Mosul was facing an unprecedented increase in unemployment rates, exceeding 70%, according to Hayam Ilham, a member of the Nineveh’s dissolved provincial council. This was due to the destruction caused by the war to principal markets, in addition to the shutdown of factories, governmental and private production projects, and the impact that has left on agriculture, livestock and transport sectors.

Jamila Ghazi, a widow in her fourth decade, who is living with her three children in a rickety house in Al-Uqaydat neighborhood, could not pay her rent for the second consecutive month, relying on food baskets that benefactors offer her to feed her young children and help them withstand their extreme state of poverty. She sighed while listening to the story of another family who abandoned their baby and said, while watching her children play, “I cannot imagine my life without any of them.”

“We survived death, together, during the war, and together we will survive the hunger and the Coronavirus,” she said, while trying to stand on her feet with difficulty.

Around two million widows and divorced women―in a country that has been through a series of external wars and internal conflicts―face harsh living conditions in the absence of the state’s support and the negligible social welfare support they receive, that amounts to 100 thousand IQD per person each month, i.e. about 84 dollars; this amount is not even disbursed to them on a regular basis.

Increasing Suicide Rates

Obstructed livelihoods and families quarantined in their homes for almost two months have resulted in frequent suicides, not only in Mosul, but in many other Iraqi cities. Some suicide cases were never heard of, while others became known all over the country.

After more than a month of imposing a total and partial curfew and a complete cessation of the vast majority of business sectors, the river police in Mosul managed to save a 49-year-old man on April 21st, moments after throwing himself into the Tigris River over the undamaged part of the fifth bridge.

Abu-Mahmoud, who survived the suicide, is a father of four children whose house was destroyed in the old city during the war. He is unable to pay the rent of his current residence in al-Zanjali district, and he hates begging for money.

Abu-Mahmoud, who used to be a builder, is diabetic and suffers from severe depressive episodes due to the fear and anxiety he has been experiencing in the recent years. He explains that the government did not compensate him for his damaged house, which was the only property he owned, despite the fact that he had presented the official papers proving it two years ago.

Lieutenant Colonel Faisal Al-Juhaishi, commander of the river police patrols that recovered Abu-Mahmoud that day, said that another patrol had done the same thing just a few hours later with a forty year old woman who also threw herself over the oldest bridge of Mosul (The Ancient Bridge).

The police officers thought that the woman had done this as a result of an outburst of anger, and once they were assured she had calmed down, they left, only to be surprised again a few minutes later at her trial to commit suicide once more in the waters of the left bank; they rushed towards her and forcibly took her out of the water.

Lieutenant Colonel Faisal stated that she had been handed over to Al-Thaqafa Police station north of the city to be held in custody for fear of her trying to commit suicide again, especially since she was determined to do so due to what she described as a ‘marital dispute’ with her husband.

He added that he had commanded his men to deploy their boats in areas close to the five bridges of the city in anticipation of other incidents, and said: “We are following with concern the walkways on the bridges because we do not know when someone will try to jump off.”

This precaution contributed to saving the life of another 44-year-old man who jumped off the Ancient Bridge trying to end his life on the calm night of May 2nd, when an attentive police officer grabbed him before he disappeared in the darkness of the river and brought him out to the bank. He also was handed over to the police station to prevent him from trying to commit suicide again.

Less than a week ago, Mosul witnessed two arson incidents in which there were two women casualties. The first incident took place in Al-Aykadat neighborhood on April 16th. A source in the Nineveh police reported that a woman had died of arson in her home and investigations were underway to find out whether the incident was a suicide attempt or not.

The police have not commented on a second incident reported by local media where a young woman tried to burn herself in Al-Bakr neighborhood, east of Mosul.

Activists on social media warned against spreading the news about suicides or child abandonment, fearing that it might encourage others to do the same. They came to that conclusion after the occurrence of several incidents at short intervals. Many of them indicated that the fear of “Corona” had taken the limelight away from the problems that may be much greater.

A blogger from Mosul wrote a post on Facebook, which was widely spread, saying: “Nineveh is completely free from Coronavirus, yet it constantly records cases of suicide and child abandonment.”

The first suicide case recorded in Mosul since the outbreak of the “Corona” pandemic and the strict measures taken by authorities to confront it was that of a young man named Abdullah Kazem, who was found hanged with a rope tied to the ceiling of his room on March 29th.

According to the primary information given to the police, Abdullah was under significant financial strain because of the loss of his job at a restaurant in the city, where he was discharged along with his colleagues due to the curfew. His wife had also abandoned him, leaving three daughters behind for him to support.

His elder brother stated that on the night of his suicide, Abdullah exchanged messages with his wife, who categorically refused to come back to him, because of the fact that he was jobless. He sent her pictures and videos of the rope he had prepared to hang himself with, but she did not inform anyone of those messages.

He continued: “Abdullah could not bear the financial hardship that he was going through as a result of losing his job … the psychological pressure was tremendous, and he could not bear it.”

Domestic Violence

The poverty and unemployment rates’ escalation in Nineveh, have not only increased suicide rates and the abandonment of children, but also the cases of domestic violence, especially with the imposition of curfew. The courts in Mosul have registered a considerable increase in the number of complaints related to domestic violence during April, in comparison to previous months.

Court judge Amer al-Rubay’i stated that he had examined 85 complaints of domestic violence crimes, all of which happened since the curfew was imposed on March 16.

This is a rather high number, compared to the same period of last year, which witnessed only about 20 complaints.

However this number is still small, and doesn’t represent the real number of domestic violence cases. According to specialists, women rarely go to the court to file a complaint against their husbands or relatives, as the community in Nineveh is tribal, or as human rights activists like to describe it, masculinist.

Diaa Fattah, a mechanic, lives in the Karama neighborhood, east of Mosul. He was brought before the investigative judge on account of a complaint filed by his wife, accusing him of beating her, and causing her a permanent disability in her eye. He seemed anxious while waiting for his turn to stand before the family and child protection judge, according to the article 413 of penal code 111 from the year 1969.

Fattah expected that he would face up to one year in prison. “But this is not what my wife is aiming for,” he said in a low voice. Then he added, while looking around: “My lawyer told me that my wife’s lawyer wants to make use of this domestic violence case in which I will be interrogated soon, in order to file for divorce in another court. If they can prove that I beat her severely, the judge of the other court will grant her divorce, and she will get all her rights, as well as child custody.”

Diaa confessed that he crossed the line in his dispute with his wife, but he insists that it was the first time he’d ever beaten her. He justified what happened by saying that he was stressed due to the lack of work and staying for a long time at home because of the coronavirus.

Lawyers say that cases of separation within the courts, and divorce outside the court, have increased in recent years, while years ago they were limited in a closed tribal society, like that of Mosul.

Women’s rights activist Soha Oda said that women’s ignorance of the law and the lack of legal protection for women in Iraq has recently raised the rate of violence against women, because the whole society has been facing stress due to the repercussions of coronavirus.

Soha believes that the assaults have been going on for a long time, and that this situation will continue even after the woman submits a legal complaint or gets a court ruling in her favor. This is because Iraq’s society “will stigmaitize her and see her as a perpetrator and not a victim.”

“As a result of that,” she added, “the woman who is subjected to such assaults rarely goes to court to demand her right. And if she does, she’d risk it all and is most likely to also be determined to end her marriage”.

Soha warns that recent incidents of suicide or family violence can be considered only “the tip of the iceberg” that hides underneath much more daily suffering of women who are unable to utter a word about what’s happening to them.

She mentioned that assaults against women are not only from husbands, but also from fathers, brothers and even sons in some cases. All these men are likely to be frustrated due to economic problems, in most cases, that are of course not the women’s faults.

Doctor Asma Ghanem, a mental health consultant, stated that the extreme poverty of a large sector of Nineveh residents is one of the main causes of the increasing cases of domestic violence, suicide and the abandonment of children. When a man is unable to provide for his family, and finds no way out of this situation, he loses hope and falls victim to depression, and may take action without thinking of the consequences.

Asmaa said that Mosul has gone through terrible conditions during the past few years, causing severe psychological problems among its inhabitants. “There should be more awareness of the importance of psychiatric treatment, and society should stop hiding their heads in the sand and ignoring the current problem,” she added.

The population of Nineveh is about 4 million, yet there are only 14 psychiatrists, and the reason for this is, according to Doctor Asmaa, is that many people still label psychiatrists “the crazy people doctor”, to belittle them, in addition to the lack of governmental funding and a lack of attention to this particular branch of medicine.

Violence Against Men, Too

Violence has not only been restricted to women, men are also having their share. On April 28, the Karkh Investigation Court in Baghdad announced the validation of the confession of a woman accused of the crime of burning her husband inside his house in the Jami’a district in the capital, by pouring gasoline on him and setting him on fire while he was asleep, after she had taken the children out of the house.

The investigative judge stated that the accused was referred to the criminal court in accordance with the article no. 406 a.b. of Iraqi penal code 111 for year 1969, because it was a premeditated murder, and that she would be hanged to death if found guilty of this crime.

The “Kurdistan Men’s Union” has announced a count of violence against men in the region for the year 2020; there was an increase in the number of cases of violence against men in the region during the curfew due to “Coronavirus”, in comparison to the same period of last year. Police stations received 175 complaints from men who faced violence, as well as 17 suicide cases and one murder case, by a woman, with the help of relatives.

In a statement announced in mid-April, the United Nations Mission in Iraq expressed its deep concern about the “spread of domestic violence” in Iraq as a result of the increasing tension during quarantine imposed to limit the spread of coronavirus.

The statement mentioned several examples, such as “the rape of a woman with special needs, marital assaults, the suicide case of a woman because of domestic violence, a woman setting herself on fire for the same reason, in addition to self-harm due to repeated assault by the spouse, and the sexual abuse of a minor”.

The statement called for a quick enactment of a law against domestic violence, as it will enable the punishment of those assailants based on gender-linked violence, including those who commit “horrible acts”.

Other than the Kurdistan Region, which legislated a law against domestic violence; law number (8) in 2011, the rest of Iraq is still awaiting parliament approval to enact a law against domestic violence, referred by President Barham Salih in September 2019, after completing its preparation.

Yasser Ismail, president of the Naya Center for Media Training, confirmed the importance of such a law to limit what he called ‘the spread of domestic violence’, explaining that it will help preserve family cohesion and achieve stability in the society.

He noted that Naya Center is currently participating in a national campaign to support this law, along with NGOs, journalists and human rights activists, who all agree that the increase of domestic violence in Iraq is caused by the lack of clear legal provisions that protect the family, especially women, children and girls.

Parliament members who support the bill blamed large blocs in the parliament responsible for delaying its approval, noting that their backgrounds are sectarian and tribal, and refuse to let women have the right to protect themselves from the beating, humiliation, and life threatening incidents.

This report was prepared with the support of NIRIJ (Network of Iraqi Reporters for Investigative Journalism), and the cooperation of the Nineveh investigative team.

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