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"They work from dawn until after the moon is high. They are children in size only." E-mail this
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Jeff Severns Guntzel, Electronic Iraq, Oct 20, 2008

Jeffrey Fleishman and Raheem Salman had a devastating piece in the Los Angeles Times Saturday called "Childhood cut short in Baghdad."

"Come to Sadr City and follow the children," the piece begins, "the one hauling flour on his donkey, the one collecting garbage on his tractor, the two brothers with bowl haircuts and greasy hands hoisting mufflers and car batteries in the late morning heat. A lot of kids here can't tell you what 6 x 3 is. They can't read. They have no time to play. They work from dawn until after the moon is high. They are children in size only."

Bloodshed and years of unrest are harsh teachers, especially in Sadr City, where 30% of children have quit school, according to a Baghdad human resources office. That estimate is probably low. A United Nations report found that 94% of boys in Iraq attend elementary school, but that drops to 44% by high school. For girls, 81% start elementary school; 31% go on to high school.

There is no classroom in Ali Kadhim Baidani's long day. His father is bent and old, and Ali, 15, collects garbage on his tractor to help provide for his family of nine. In 2001, his clan moved to Sadr City from the marshes southeast of Amarah. The tractor was meant to farm the fields rimming Baghdad, but at 5 a.m. each day Ali drives it from the furrows to pick up trash in streets and alleys, heading toward the dump about 2 p.m.

When he returns home, his younger brothers circle to hear stories from the city. They help him wash his hands, brush the dust from his clothes. The eldest son, Ali has never been to school; his childhood is like his tractor -- turned over to other responsibilities. He attends funerals and weddings in place of his father, the family representative to neighbors and the world.

"The happiest moment for me," he said, "is when I receive money from the [garbage] contractor and give it to my father to spend on my family ... I will work in this job and when the job is finished, I will search for another."



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Page last updated: Oct 20, 2008 - 9:30:17 AM




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