Introduction for adults:
Invasions, wars, and economic sanctions involving Iraq are very complicated and controversial issues. However, as these have had a tremendous effect on the children of Iraq, it is important that readers of these stories come to understand the circumstances of their Iraqi peers. This story is about the actual circumstances of one child between the two Gulf Wars. The information following the story can be used to explain economic sanctions.

The American woman named Lisa had arrived in Iraq just a few hours earlier. Her guide, Ramzi, was Lebanese- American, and he spoke Arabic. He had visited Iraq before and was telling her how changed he found the country. “It was such a lovely, civilized place. There was a great interest in art, and the Iraqi hospitality is amazing. But now, everyone has been so hurt by the corrupt government, the war, and the sanctions placed on them.”

They looked around at a depressing sight of broken windows and poverty. But it was hard to think about anything but the intense heat. “It’s well over 100 degrees, I’d guess,” Ramzi said. “Over by our hotel we can stand in the shade and you can get your shoes cleaned.”

Lisa agreed. After all the traveling she had done, her shoes were very dirty and she did not want to be entering people’s offices or homes wearing them as they were now. Still she was unhappy to see that the shoe shiners were young boys, whom she felt should be in school. As they headed across the street to the Al Fanar Hotel, an eleven-year-old girl came running towards them, calling out happily. She threw her arms around Ramzi.

“Paimon!” he shouted. “It’s good to see you again!” Then he switched to speaking Arabic to her. Lisa watched. Paimon was smiling up at Ramzi, her eyes shining. She seemed unaware of the searing heat, talking with great enthusiasm and moving constantly. Paimon, Lisa thought, was a bundle of energy.

But when Ramzi turned to introduce them to each other, Lisa saw that Paimon was more than friendly and energetic. Immediately she sensed in Paimon something Lisa could only describe as a glimpse of the child’s soul. “She carries her own light,” Lisa thought. “She is one of those rare people you meet briefly and never forget.”

Still, there were those shoes to be cleaned. When Lisa took them off, she gasped, “Ow! I can’t stand on the pavement! It’s too hot!” She began hopping from foot to foot.

Paimon gave a delighted laugh as she instantly slipped off her own plastic shoes. She placed them at Lisa’s feet. As they were too small for Lisa, Paimon directed Lisa to stand on top of them. Lisa started to protest but Paimon insisted. Ramzi assured Lisa that Paimon really wanted her to use the shoes. Paimon jumped up and down to cope with the hot pavement, but she would have kept moving even if she had her shoes. She was like a delicate butterfly, flitting from flower to flower.

When the shoes were cleaned, the boys paid, and Lisa and Paimon were both wearing their own shoes again, Ramzi, Lisa and Paimon walked together for a while. Paimon chatted with Ramzi, but she kept including Lisa by holding her hand and shining a dazzling smile at her. When they reached a street where they were to go their separate ways, Ramzi spoke again with Paimon and opened his backpack. He had a gift of honey from Lebanon for her family. She hugged him tightly.

Then she turned to Lisa. Reaching into her pocket, Paimon took out an unopened box of gum. She pried it open, shook out one square piece, and offered it to Lisa. “Thank you, Paimon!” Lisa said and they hugged. Paimon gave Lisa one last, deep look, then fluttered down the dusty, hot street. She turned to wave from time to time and Lisa again thought of a butterfly.

Lisa turned to Ramzi, about to tell him how delighted she had been to meet such a wondrous child when she saw a worried frown on his face. “Paimon just got out of jail,” he said simply.

“Jail? Whatever for?”

“She was arrested for begging on the streets. Paimon is the oldest of four children. The youngest is still a baby. You know, there is a huge amount of unemployment here and Paimon’s father lost his job quite a while ago. He is a good man, but so devastated and depressed that he can’t support his family, he has left them. If I understood Paimon right, he comes back from time to time, but it’s up to Paimon and her mother to keep the family alive. So Paimon has taken to begging or selling things in the streets. She apparently brings in their only income that way. Unfortunately, that’s against the law. She was arrested once and spent a week in jail. Imagine an eleven-year-old in jail! But that was not all—she was arrested a second time and spent another week in jail. But she has no choice but to continue. She was arrested a third time. This time, it was for a month!”

They stood there silently, both gazing where they could still see Paimon far down the street.

Finally Lisa said, “Just for begging—just for trying to feed her family!”

Ramzi nodded. “Just for begging and selling gum.”

Startled, Lisa looked down at her hand, where the little square of gum lay in her palm. This was Paimon’s only means of income and she had freely and graciously given it to Lisa! Lisa looked up quickly, but Paimon had disappeared around the bend.

Unemployment in Iraq was as high as sixty percent in the year 2002, so many children like Paimon and the shoe shiners, found ways to provide for themselves and even for their families, risking arrest and imprisonment. Paimon is a real child. The conditions under which she lived were the result of ‘economic sanctions’ that had been placed on Iraq. The following definitions explain the meaning of economic sanctions. 
  • Sanction: a restriction, a penalty.
  • International Sanctions: actions taken by one country or countries against another for political reasons. There are different kinds of sanctions. A military sanction means going to war. Another kind is an economic sanction.
  • Economic: having to do with managing money and the businesses that contribute to making money.
  • Economic Sanctions: when country or group of countries stops trade with another.
  • Trade: Buying and selling between people or groups. A grocery store is a place of trade among those who make the food, those who sell it and those who buy it.

A little history: 
The history of Iraq is very complicated and involves many issues and countries. For better understanding of the story, here is a brief background:

Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. The United Nations, led by the United States, invaded Iraq, forcing the Iraqi army out of Kuwait by 1991. That same year, the United Nations put economic sanctions on Iraq. This was done because the United Nations wanted Iraq to stop its aggression towards other countries, and because there were reports of many crimes against Iraqi people by their own government.

The sanctions lasted from 1990 until 2003, when the United States led an invasion of Iraq. These were ‘full trade’ sanctions, meaning that nothing could be traded with Iraq. Other countries could not sell anything to Iraq, and Iraq could not send out their products to be bought by others. The exceptions were medical supplies and food.However, in a country greatly damaged by the war and a corrupt government, those who were the most affected by the sanctions were not those in charge, but the children. With no trade, jobs were lost and families became very poor. Schools and hospitals were damaged and could not be repaired because materials and equipment were not allowed into Iraq. With roads damaged, getting any supplies was difficult. Many children suffered hunger. In addition, there was another deadly problem: pollution to the water supply. Humans cannot survive without water, but unclean water easily kills people too. Iraqi children were especially affected by the water problems.

It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of children died as a result of these conditions caused by the sanctions and the war of 1990-91. And those who survived, like Paimon, did so only with great difficulty.

Suggested questions for research and discussion:
  • What is the United Nations? When did it form? What countries belong to it? What would be the role of a security council within the United Nations?
  • Have there been economic sanctions used on other countries? Which countries imposed them? What were the reasons for these sanctions?