To empower youth and ensure long-term health and wellness, International Medical Corps is coordinating with the Iraqi government and civil society partners to improve quality of care within the Iraqi juvenile justice systems, to increase awareness of children’s rights and protection, and to reduce the risk of recidivism. Through International Medical Corps’ Justice for Children (JFC) Program, funded by UNICEF, our teams in Iraq are providing vital resources for vulnerable children including legal aid, reintegration services, and community engagement programs.
International Medical Corps’ legal aid services prioritize children and families who cannot afford a lawyer, very young children in detention (legal age of criminal responsibility in Iraq is 9-years-old), and children who have been in detention for more than 45 days. In partnership with the Iraqi Bar Association and the Iraqi Jurists’ Union, a cadre of senior criminal lawyers were identified in Baghdad, Basra and Mosul, who have experience working on juvenile criminal cases. Our local teams work with children and their families to help advise them through the legal processes, to be aware of their rights and to access the appropriate resources. In addition, because government and community structures to appropriately respond to children’s reintegration needs after release from detention are very weak, International Medical Corps helps youth to reintegrate successfully into society, to obtain work, and to continue to live healthy lives.
An International Medical Corps JFC Legal Advisor recently intervened on behalf of 17-year-old Ahmed after he was arrested for a crime he did not commit. During the height of Iraq’s sectarian violence in 2006, Ahmed’s family was displaced and his father, mother, two older brothers and brother-in-law were all killed. Ahmed, his younger brother, sister, and her two children were left to care themselves. Having no support network, the vulnerable teen was held for nine months in adult detention facilities without proper legal representation. Ahmed had been provided a court-appointed lawyer, who took no action on his case. International Medical Corps’ JFC Legal Advisor eventually learned of Ahmed’s situation from the Baghdad Juvenile Police and took on his case. It was not until Ahmed’s case was referred to International Medical Corps that there was any traction. After spending a year in three different detention centers, Ahmed was eventually found innocent of all charges with support from his Legal Advisor.
Upon his release, International Medical Corps assigned Ahmed a dedicated JFC Community Case Manager who worked with him to develop a self-directed reintegration plan in order to help him rebuild his life. Our Case Manager paired Ahmed with Mr. Mohammed, a local barbershop owner, who agreed to train Ahmed in barbering techniques. Because Ahmed was a quick learner and showed promise, International Medical Corps successfully negotiated with Mr. Mohammed to make Ahmed an equal partner in the business.
Ahmed’s ability to find work after his release from detention was crucial not only for himself but for his family members as well. With the $500/month income Ahmed now earns he is able to provide for his whole family.
“Without you, I could not find a job and support my sister and my little brother,” says Ahmed about the support provided to him through International Medical Corps.
A JFC Community Case Manager continues to visit the family on a monthly basis to provide psychosocial support. In the next academic year, Ahmed plans to enroll in an accelerated learning program sponsored by the Directorate of Education. With signs of a promising future, Ahmed is also thinking about the possibility of getting married. Mr. Mohammed has already committed himself to helping Ahmed achieve his new goals.