Welcoming baby Fatima

Baby Fatima, three weeks old, was born with a form of spina bifida. She is in the process of getting her birth certificate, thanks to a UNICEF-supported programme to register children in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. UNICEF Iraq/2015/Anmar

Baby Fatima lies quietly on her back, her little arms thrown overhead. She is still and silent, as if she’s sleeping, but her eyes are open.

It’s hot inside the prefabricated home. Her mother, Montaha Mohamad fans her daughter with a small paddle.

Fatima was born three weeks ago by caesarian section. She was found to have myelomeningocele, a form of spina bifida, and required immediate surgery to remove a bulging sac from her lower spine.

“She doesn’t eat, and she’s still very weak from the operation,” her mother says. “She needs specialist help, but we don’t have the money for a taxi to take her to the hospital.”

Montaha holds her daughter, Sara, 1, outside their home in Harsham Camp for the internally displaced. Her oldest son Abdurachman, 6, stands on the right. Abdullah, 4, is on the left. UNICEF Iraq/2015/Niles

Montaha and her husband Talal have five children under the age of six. They’ve been living in Harsham camp for the internally displaced since last August, driven out of their home in Ninewah by violence.

“It’s too hot in the camp. We don’t have an air conditioner or a refrigerator. I’m worried that Fatima has water on the brain, that her head is swelling,” Montaha says.

UNICEF has launched a campaign with its partners, Terre des Hommes and Qandil, to protect children born in the camps by registering their births. With about 830,000 internally displaced people in the Kurdish region of Iraq, many families are unaware of the procedures to ensure that their newborns are officially recognized.

The campaign, supported by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), also involves educating children about the importance of identification cards and their basic rights. Montaha has begun the process of registering Fatima, and she will get legal help to ensure that her daughter can receive all the benefits of citizenship.

It’s one less thing that the family has to worry about. Torn from their everyday lives, they seem stunned by the situation they find themselves in, and unable to imagine what the future might hold. With funding for humanitarian interventions dwindling and the situation in Iraq showing no end in sight, these fears are well justified.

“I’m not a rich man, but I don’t want anything,” Talal says. “I just want to live in peace.”

Chris Niles is a consultant with UNICEF Iraq.

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