Iraqi children are becoming prominent targets of terrorist attacks in the form of kidnappings, rape and murder, Iraqi officials say.
An official at the Iraqi Interior Ministry said there were several cases where organized gangs were carrying out these crimes, but added that many of the criminals had been arrested and brought to justice, according to the London-based A-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
Safia a-Suheil, an Iraqi MP, said, "Recently the practice of targeting children by killing, kidnapping and raping them has mushroomed."
These kidnappings constituted a "new terrorism tactic" since it was undermining the country as a whole, she said.
In many cases, children are abducted and the kidnappers demand a ransom in exchange for their safe return.
"It's been going on since the beginning of the war," an international aid worker in Iraq told The Media Line. "But it's been getting a lot more attention lately." Penalties for such cases include the death sentence.
"There's an obvious failure to tackle issues related to children in Iraq," Suheil said. "There are several practices which have spread in Iraqi society and that need to be addressed and tackled, including child labor, which has become one of the most dangerous forms of violence that children are facing.
"A high number of Iraqi children look for work on the streets and in markets because of difficult living conditions, which is partially a result of terrorism suffered by those looking after them," she said. "That shouldn't prevent a search for new and alternative means, including allocating part of the Iraqi state budget to provide for them and their families."
Suheil recommended that a special unit be set up in the Interior Ministry's division for combating terrorism, to tackle this problem by increasing security around schools and public parks, which have become popular spots for families since the security situation began to improve.