Guns do not need to be real to cause casualties. Toy guns for children are no longer made of just plastic, and some are not unlike real firearms, such as air rifles. Firecrackers have also become a new source for pain for children of different ages. Almost every Iraqi house contains firecrackers, and children use them when playing on a daily basis. Some families with many children do not hesitate to buy a toy pistol or machine gun for every child, and even replace their parts once they are damaged.
Playing with guns is common among children in the streets of the Iraqi capital, particularly in poor neighborhoods, in which children usually outnumber the the neighborhood’s adults. The game of “cops and robbers” — one of the most popular games among children — requires children to be "armed," each of whom assumes a particular role. All players carry toy firearms.
Vacations and holidays are the season for acquiring and practicing violent toys. Children spend long hours at home playing violent games and pointing guns at one another, especially during the Eid. These games particularly seem to appeal to children in poor neighborhoods. Visitors to these neighborhoods feel as if there is an ongoing war among the youth.
Some streets and narrow alleys turn into battlefields, and many children are taken to the hospital after sustaining wounds from the small bullets and plastic arrows shot from these pistols and rifles.
The recurrence of such incidents has prompted the Ministry of Health to repeatedly warn parents to prohibit their children from playing with these weapons or possessing them in the first place. During holidays, scores of children are admitted to hospitals and health centers after sustaining injuries to their faces. Some who sustain injuries to their eyes or noses may bleed heavily and suffer permanent eye damage or even loss of sight.
Nabil Ali Sa’doun, a research specialist in sociology, says that a study conducted by students at the University of Baghdad last year showed that every family in Iraq possesses one to three toy pistols, depending on the number of children. The results of a 500-person survey showed that the number of toy pistols used by children at home exceeds 1.5 million. They are mostly used by children between the ages of five and ten. The survey also showed that the these types of toy guns are more concentrated in poor areas, where such games are very popular.
Sa’doun stresses that the main problem is that families are unable to convince their children to give up the idea of buying toy guns or rifles, and often cave to their children’s pressure for fear that they might feel inferior to their peers who own the same toys.
He says that the problem of violence among children in Iraq is more serious than in the rest of the region. Many children insist on buying toy Kalashnikovs when they visit toy shops, and their parents often fail to dissuade them. Sa’doun attributes the spread of violence among children in Iraq to the difficult psychological and social circumstances experienced by children in the past years, as well as to the type of cartoons broadcast on satellite TV channels.