HUNDREDS OF CHILDREN FOUND LOST AND ALONE AFTER BATTLE OF MOSUL
Thousands of children have been separated from their parents in the nine-month battle for Mosul and the preceding years of Islamic State rule in northern Iraq, some found wandering alone and afraid among the rubble, others joining the refugee exodus from the pulverized city. In some cases their parents have been killed. Families have been split up as they fled street fighting, air strikes or Islamic State repression. Many are traumatized from the horrors they have endured. Protecting the youngsters and reuniting them with their families is an urgent task for humanitarian organizations. “These children are extremely vulnerable,” said Mariyampillai Mariyaselvam, a child protection specialist with UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund). “Most have gone through a very painful time.”
Nine-year-old Meriam had left her family one day last October to visit her grandmother in west Mosul, then under Islamic State rule. The government offensive to recapture the city began, so she stayed there. Her father Hassan said he had been a policeman but quit when the radical Islamists seized Mosul in 2014, fearing he would be targeted. He, his second wife, along with Meriam and her three half-siblings moved from dwelling to dwelling. “We were living in many different places, moving around. Meriam stayed with her grandmother but when the bridges were shut down, I could not cross the river to see her,” he said. They eventually fled to the Hassan Sham displaced persons camp but Meriam was trapped in the west. After government forces retook the neighbourhood in June, she and her grandmother made it to the Khazer camp.
Her father asked UNICEF for help and they managed to track down his daughter. They were reunited in Hassan Sham later that month. “I was hearing bombing and killing every day. I did not believe they would find her,” he said. Life is still hard for the family. They left the camp to return to the city with their few possessions, but the house owner wants to evict them. Hassan makes ends meet by finding day jobs. But at least they are together, he said, cuddling his daughter as he spoke. Meriam, a bright-eyed girl with a shy smile, said she would like to go to school. “I have never been to school. I would like to have books, a backpack, and to learn letters. That is my dream,” she said. UNICEF says children in shock had been found in debris or hidden in tunnels in Mosul. Some had lost their families while fleeing to safety but sometimes parents had been forced to abandon children or give them away.
Many children were forced to fight or carry out violent acts, it said in a statement. They were also vulnerable to sexual exploitation. UNICEF’s Mariyaselvam said the number of children coming out of Mosul had increased in the past few months as the battle reached its climax. He explained the distinction between separated children, who are split from their legal guardians but are with friends or relatives, and unaccompanied children, who are alone and without care or guardians. It was difficult to give an accurate number but child protection agencies have recorded more than 3,000 separated and over 800 unaccompanied children, he said. The latter are the priority. The task of rescuing and identifying them begins in the field, with relief agency teams placed in strategic locations where people are fleeing. Registration points are set up. Mobile child protection teams also visit households.
Then UNICEF and its local partners begin tracing the legal guardians or relatives. “Our primary focus is care and protection for them. We try to make sure that they are provided immediate care,” he said. In camps, they are usually placed with people on a temporary basis. If parents or other relatives cannot be identified, a legal process begins to put them in care homes with government permission. If all efforts fail, there is a foster program. From the start, the children need specialized services such as psychological counselling. Some need mental health care. But the Iraqi government lacks sufficient resources or infrastructure to handle the challenge, Mariyaselvam said. Mosul, which served as the capital of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria for three years, provided a particular set of problems.
UNICEF and the government followed cases to ensure children were safe from abuse and exploitation once they were back in the community. “The situation we are seeing is that some children are not being accepted by the community because of their affiliation,” he said, referring to the children of Islamic State fighters and supporters. Some youngsters were roaming the city streets and some were being used as child labour, he said. Families who had lost their homes or fled could sometimes simply not cope. “It is going to require a lot of time and a lot of resources and specialized services for them to rebuild their lives, including sending them back to school,” Mariyaselvam said. And with the war still going on as Islamic State retreats and a government offensive to recapture the Islamic State held town of Tal Afar expected soon, a new wave of lost children is anticipated.
IRANIAN YOUTH CONVERTING TO CHRISTIANITY DESPITE ISLAMIC INDOCTRINATION
The massive rise of Christianity in Iran, especially among youths, continues despite the Islamic government’s efforts to suppress the faith. Even Islamic leaders admitted that more and more young people are choosing to follow Christ. According to Mohabat News, which reports on the persecution and state of Christianity in Iran, the “exponential rate” of Christian growth has been a factor for the last couple of decades. Now even leading Islamic seminary officials, such as Ayatollah Alavi Boroujerdi, have pointed to “accurate reports indicating that the youth are becoming Christians in Qom and attending house churches.” Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi has also been raising alarm over the number of Iranian youths becoming Christians, and has blamed “foreign influence” for the conversions.
Other ayatollahs, such as Wahid Khorasani, have slammed government officials “for their negligence in preparing counteracting strategies to stop the spread of Christianity.” Mohabat News pointed out that “this high rate of conversion of Iranian youth to Christianity is in spite of rigorous Islamic indoctrination of the youth in their families and educational system. The Islamic government of Iran dedicates massive budgets to the support of Islamic organizations that promote Islam among the youth within and without Iran’s borders. Such efforts to attract Iranian youth is much more noticeable in Islamic cities such as Mashhad and Qom,” it added. “Regardless of such efforts, Iranian youth seem to become increasingly distant from Islam, which is a cause of great concern for the Iranian Islamic government.”
The New York-based Centre for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said in a report in July that Iranian authorities are increasingly cracking down on Christian converts in the country, arresting and imprisoning believers in their attempts to suppress Christianity. CHRI noted in its report that since June 2017, at least 11 Christian converts and the former leader of the Assyrian Pentecostal Church in Iran have been issued long prison sentences by the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. “Christians are recognized as an official religious minority in Iran’s Constitution, but the state continues to persecute members of the faith, especially converts,” said CHRI’s executive director, Hadi Ghaemi. “The state must respect its own laws and international obligations and allow Christians and all religious minorities full freedom of worship.”
The Iranian government has reportedly been spending millions of dollars for Islamic propaganda across the country, alongside its campaign to crack down on new Christian converts, and its closure of churches in Tehran and elsewhere. The strategies have been ineffective, however, with mission group Elam Ministries separately estimating that there are as many as 360,000 believers in Iran today, up from only 500 in 1979. “Church leaders believe that millions can be added to the church in the next few years, such is the spiritual hunger that exists and the disillusionment with the Islamic regime,” Elam Ministries said earlier this year. “If we remain faithful to our calling, our conviction is that it is possible to see the nation transformed within our lifetime. Because Iran is a strategic gateway nation, the growing church in Iran will impact Muslim nations across the Islamic world.”
POPE FRANCIS ORDERS CATHOLIC GROUP TO STOP OFFERING EUTHANASIA IN BELGIUM
Pope Francis and the Vatican have ordered an end to a Belgian Catholic charity’s “disloyal” and “outrageous” practice of offering euthanasia at all 15 of its psychiatric hospital centres. The Brothers of Charity group has reportedly been making use of the legality of euthanasia in Belgium and allowing doctors to offer euthanasia for psychiatric patients in cases where “no reasonable treatment alternatives” are available. The Holy See Press Office has confirmed that Francis ordered the Catholic group to stop offering euthanasia, which is a controversial practice that goes against Roman Catholic Church doctrine. The Vatican leader apparently said in a letter to the charity that it must “fully support the vision of the magisterium of the Catholic Church, which has always confirmed that human life must be respected and protected in absolute terms, from the moment of conception till its natural end.”
Rene Stockman, the charity’s superior general, who delivered the request from Pope Francis, said that “this is the very first time a Christian organization states that euthanasia is an ordinary medical practice that falls under the physician’s therapeutic freedom.” “This is disloyal, outrageous and unacceptable,” Stockman said. The decision to allow euthanasia was apparently made by the group’s lay board of directors, which prompted an investigation by the Vatican. The Brothers of Charity has clarified that patients who request to die are granted such permission only if they are in a state of “unbearable suffering.” Also, at least three doctors, including one psychiatrist, must be consulted. Mattias De Vriendt, a spokesman for the Belgian charity, revealed that the group has received requests from patients seeking to end their lives, but did not say whether any procedures had been performed yet.
The Vatican has warned that the charity might face legal action, and could be expelled from the Church unless it reverses its policy. “We will take our time in the next few weeks to evaluate these letters,” de Vriendt said, referring to Pope Francis’ order. Euthanasia remains a divisive issue among evangelicals as well, a LifeWay Research survey from last year pointed out. The U.S. online poll, which randomly sampled 1,000 respondents, found that four out of 10 evangelicals believe that doctors should be allowed to assist terminally ill patients in ending their lives. “If they are facing a slow, painful death, Americans want options,” Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said at the time. “Many believe that asking for help in dying is a moral option. They don’t believe that suffering until they die of natural causes is the only way out.”
EIGHTY PER CENT OF NEW ZEALANDERS ARE AGAINST LEGALIZING ASSISTED SUICIDE
Eighty percent of New Zealanders who responded to a petition on the issue of ending one’s life were opposed to legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia, says a report by the Health Committee. The results were part of a report composed in response to a petition presented to the government in June 2015 by past Minister of Parliament Maryan Street. That petition, which had 8,974 signatures, requested “that the House of Representatives investigate fully public attitudes towards the introduction of legislation which would permit medically-assisted dying in the event of a terminal illness or an irreversible condition which makes life unbearable.” In order to fulfil the request of the petition, a Health Committee was established to investigate assisted death in New Zealand. The Committee began receiving written submissions from the public in August 2015.
More than 21,000 people, including medical professionals and organizations made a written submission. Eighty percent were opposed to assisted suicide and/or euthanasia legislation. Opposition was largely based on concerns about vulnerable people, especially the elderly, disabled and those with mental illnesses. The Committee also noted that some “argued that life has an innate value and that introducing assisted dying and euthanasia would explicitly undermine that idea.” Widening access to larger groups of people over time was also a concern. Submissions made in favour of changing the law to allow for assisted suicide and euthanasia often cited the right to individual autonomy. Those who held this view believe they should have the choice to end their life when they wish.
While the Health Committee report does not offer a final recommendation to the government on assisted suicide or euthanasia, it did give specific recommendations regarding palliative care. Troubled by the “uneven access” to palliative care in New Zealand, the Committee suggested the government look into how inequalities to access can be “promptly reduced.” The report requests that a campaign be launched to communicate to the public the role of palliative care. The Committee also praised hospice services throughout the country and their engagement with the community. The opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia is significant at a time when a draft “End of Life Choice” Bill is currently awaiting its first reading in the House. Past bills in 1995 and 2003 attempting to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia were stymied at the first reading.
A spiritual awakening is underway at the White House. Some of the most powerful people in America have been gathering weekly to study God’s Word. They’ve been called the most evangelical Cabinet in history, men and women who don’t mince words when it comes to where they stand on God and the Bible. Ralph Drollinger of Capitol Ministries said, “These are godly individuals that God has raised to a position of prominence in our culture.” Drollinger founded Capitol Ministries with the idea that if you change the hearts of lawmakers, then their Christian world view will guide them to make good policies. He’s started Bible studies in 40 state capitols, a number of foreign parliaments, teaches weekly studies in the U.S. House and Senate and now leads about a dozen members of President Trump’s Cabinet in weekly studies of the Scriptures.
Health Secretary Tom Price, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Education Secretary Betsy Devos, Agriculture Secretary Sunny Perdue, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo are just a few of the regulars. “It’s the best Bible study that I’ve ever taught in my life. They are so teachable; they’re so noble; they’re so learned,” Drollinger said. It’s ground breaking since he doesn’t think a formal Bible study among executive Cabinet members has been done in at least 100 years. America’s top cop, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, also attends the study. “Jeff Sessions will go out the same day I teach him something and I’ll see him do it on camera and I just think, ‘Wow, these guys are faithful, available and teachable and they’re at Bible study every week they’re in town,'” Drollinger said. President Trump is invited to attend the Bible studies, too. Each week he receives a copy of Drollinger’s teaching.
Vice President Pence is also planning to join the study as his schedule permits. He also serves as a sponsor. In Pence, Drollinger sees many similarities to Biblical figures like Joseph, Mordecai and Daniel, all men who rose to the number two position in governments at different times in history. “Mike Pence has respect for the office. He dresses right, like it says Joseph cleaned himself up before he went to stand before the Pharaoh,” Drollinger said. “Mike Pence has uncompromising Biblical tenacity and he has a loving tone about him that’s not just a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal,” he continued. “And then fourthly, he brings real value to the head of the nation.” Like others, Drollinger often compares President Trump to Biblical strongman Samson. “I just praise God for them,” he said. “And I praise God for Mike Pence, who I think with Donald Trump chose great people to lead our nation.”
A biological male who identifies as a “transwoman” said he supports President Trump’s decision to ban “transgender” individuals from serving in the Armed Forces. Edie Dixon said he is “very satisfied” with the decision because trans individuals have no more “right” to join the military than any other “medically reliant” group of people. “We are no better than diabetics or asthmatics. We should be disqualified at enlistment because we are medically reliant,” he told Blaze TV. “This decision isn’t about transgender people, this is about transgender treatment,” he added. When asked about if LGBT activists can be intolerant, Dixon replied: “It feels like the Left has flipped flopped. It’s all hypocrisy. They are not for tolerance anymore. They are against free speech, It’s not an equal rights movement anymore. It’s a liberal political agenda movement.”
Dixon said that Trump’s new ban is part of his promise of keeping Americans safe. “We don’t need any more political correctness in this country. We need truth, and we need safety,” he added. Dixon’s comments echo those of former Army drill instructor, John Burk, who took to YouTube to defend Trump’s ban. Noting the high suicide rate of “transgender” people, and that “gender dysphoria” is classified by the American Psychiatric Association as a “psychological disorder,” Burk said, “A psychological disorder bans you from any type of military service. Guess what? Colour blindness disqualifies you from the military. Are we ‘discriminatory’ towards colour-blind people?” he added. “So I don’t see this as being discriminatory in any way, shape or form,” he says. “There has to be a line drawn in the sand, a standard and force that cannot be crossed,” he concluded.