In Baghdad's prisons for children
Her place of work is not the most usual. Malak Jumaah Madhi, Tdh social worker, visits the detention centres for children and young people in Baghdad every day with her colleagues. The small team of ten social workers and a psychologist is committed to defending the rights and improving the situation of hundreds of children detained in Iraq.
When she arrives, they are all ready and impatient. The youngest are barely nine years old. Victims of manipulation or forced labour, most young people in prison fell into the clutches of the Islamic state during the conflict and now face heavy penalties for having had links with the jihadist organisation. Others are detained for different offences. Tdh's work is done without distinction of their accusation.
Trauma and other mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder particularly affect these children, who have grown up in violent environments. This is expressed through aggressive behaviour, anger, depression, suicidal thoughts or even attempts. The activities organised by Malak and her colleagues can help them deal with and overcome this psychological distress.
Malak Jumaah Madhi
"We offer psychological and psychosocial support to these young people through individual or group sessions. Together we do exercises to teach them how to manage anger and stress, express their emotions, solve problems and conflicts, and make decisions," she says.
The sessions last between 45 minutes and an hour and are participatory, meaning that children can give their opinion and express their feelings. "Young people want to be treated like human beings. They need someone to talk to, they need to express their feelings.”
The positive effects can be seen very quickly. "Young people appreciate our work and notice the beneficial effects on their own behaviour. There is less aggressiveness. One of them came to me and said, “Now, when I get angry, I remember the steps to follow and it reduces my anger”.
In this post-war context, the legal system is overloaded and procedures take much longer. Children can for example remain in pre-trial detention for up to two or three years before being tried, while the legal time limit for most cases is six months. "Our work is very important because we are the only NGO here to do so," she concludes.
This work is done in collaboration with the Iraqi Ministries of Justice and the Interior, local authorities and prison staff. To complement psychological support, our team also provides educational and legal support – through a local organisation – to ensure that the rights of these children are respected, and that procedures are fair and adapted to their condition. To ensure the sustainability of our intervention, Tdh contributes to strengthening the Iraqi juvenile justice system by training the people who work in it.
Photo credit: © Tdh/Mélanie Rouiller – The header photo is a pretext image.