International Medical Corps’ Justice for Children (JFC) program aims to prevent children from coming into contact with the law—whether as witnesses, victims or offenders—and to increase their access to legal protection when they do. Launched in March 2009 with support from UNICEF, the program engages various Iraqi government ministries, civil society organizations, juvenile detention centers, schools, youth centers, communities and families to promote and protect the rights of Iraqi children.
Juveniles face many hardships both during detention and after release as they return to their families and communities. JFC aims to ease these challenges by providing free legal aid to children in pre-trial detention; providing psychosocial support to released children and their families; facilitating school enrollment, health care provision and vocational training; and coordinating financial and job assistance. The JFC program is part of International Medical Corps’ protection and psychosocial support interventions in Iraq that aim to protect the legal rights of extremely vulnerable persons.
One beneficiary of the JFC program is eighteen-year-old Bassam,* whose father died when he was six-years-old, forcing Bassam to work to support his family at a young age. He illegally sold petrol on the streets of Dora, a neighborhood in Baghdad, until he was arrested last year and charged with a misdemeanor offence. The juvenile detention center for boys in Baghdad referred Bassam’s case to the JFC legal advisor.
The legal advisor assigned a lawyer to represent Bassam, and within two months, Bassam’s case was closed. Although found guilty and sentenced to six months in detention, the presiding judge dismissed Bissam’s custodial sentence due to his family’s economic hardships.
Following the trial, a JFC community case manager met with Bissam and his family to develop a reintegration life plan to help him transition back home more easily. The JFC program provided Bassam with vocational training and a paid apprenticeship, enabling him to continue to financially support his family. Bassam was paired with a local vendor, who trained him on buying and selling produce. After Bassam completed his month-long training, JFC donated a vegetable cart and produce so that Bassam could launch his own business as a vendor and sell vegetables in the local Dora market. JFC also arranged a paid apprenticeship for Bassam at a nearby farm. By the end of the first month of the paid apprenticeship in February 2012, Bassam was hired full-time as a farmhand. With the money that he earns selling vegetables in the market and working on the farm, as well as his supplemental salary from JFC’s three-month paid apprenticeship program, Bassam is now able to support his mother and pregnant wife.
“The program is very successful and it radically changed my life,” states Bassam. “Previously, I didn’t have hope in life. Currently, I have the ambition of having a farm.”
Bassam’s supervisor at the farm has also noticed the marked change in Bassam’s life: “I feel that he is a new person. Having this kind of ambition, he will own land like me someday.”
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.