There are hundreds of thousands of people fleeing armed conflict around the world, thousands of them children. The Psychological Impact On Child Victims Of War.
Refugees are people subjected to cruel violence: bombings, sieges, fleeing their homes and their normality.
The physical consequences are visible, the psychological ones invaluable.
During armed conflicts, both individual and collective mental health is at high risk of being affected not only immediately but also in the medium and long term, a situation that is aggravated by the little attention that has been given at the psychological level from the public sphere in a generalized way, the more so, in the case of children.
Within the different forms of abuse, we must remember that there is collective, social or political abuse, as stated by the WHO in its World Report on Violence and Health.
Living in an armed conflict, where economic and social difficulties are also experienced, is considered to negatively affect the development of the person in all spheres, and therefore, with more virulence in childhood.
The same United Nations study defines violence against children as “the deliberate use of force or power, real or in the form of a threat that results in injury, psychological harm, poor development, deprivation or even death”.
Psychological damage in Palestine, Syria, Iraq
Thus, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, such as the war in Syria and Iraq, has brought irreparable psychological consequences to children, who from early childhood suffer emotional pressures and psychological tensions that increase every day.
The documentary “Born in Gaza” by Hernán Zin, filmed during the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip between July and November 2014, shows the testimonies of ten children who tell how their daily lives are among the bombs and how they struggle to overcome the horror of war and give a touch of normality to their lives.
They are the spokespersons for the 507 children killed and more than 3,000 wounded by the Israeli offensive and its supposed “Defensive Margin” and we can clearly objectify the impact of the violence and post-traumatic symptoms they present.
A study conducted by specialists from the Centre for Victims of Torture with Syrian refugee children in Jordan revealed “persistent fear, anger, lack of interest in activities, hopelessness and problems with basic functioning.
Of the nearly 8,000 people who participated in the study, 15.1% reported feeling very scared and 28.4% reported feeling so angry that nothing could calm them down; 26.3% felt “so desperate that they did not want to continue living”; and 18.8% felt “unable to carry out essential activities of daily life due to feelings of fear, anger, fatigue, disinterest, hopelessness or discomfort”.
Children fleeing war have been subjected to sexual violence, terror, have been bombed and targeted by snipers, have seen their homes destroyed, their schools and their environment in general.
It is to be expected that there will be terror and a sense of persecution and helplessness that can be extremely aggravated when they do not find asylum so that they can begin to recover.
Children with regression, guilt, hostility
A violent environment is a land of fertile space for short- and long-term consequences of psychological trauma.
Garbarino, Kostelny and Dubrow (1991) interviewed a sample of families living in the West Bank and Gaza during the Intifada. They found that there was no child without direct exposure to the violence of the occupation, including the cases of children killed, detained, arrested, beaten and inhaled tear gas.
Individual responses to life-threatening traumatic events differ from child to child, depending on a number of factors such as age, previous experience, and available support systems; but the core of consistent responses include extreme anxiety, generalized fears, and loss of self-esteem (Vander Kolk, 1987).
Some children respond with regressions, avoidance, and denial; others, with guilt and feelings of helplessness.
However, there are children who develop anger, patterns of hostile behavior, and expression of aggression (Garbarino, Kostelny, and Dubrow, 1991), although less visible than physical wounds, emotional wounds are no less serious (Dubrow, Liwski, Palacios, and Gardinier, 1996).
Sleep disorders, panic, pain, aggressiveness
Punamaki and Suleiman (1990) suggest that exposure to political misfortune increased psychological symptoms in Palestinian children.
Similarly, one year after the start of the Intifada, Baker (1990) found that fears and depression increased by 15 to 25%. Khamis (1992) has found a high percentage of enuresis and stuttering in elementary school children.
It can be noted that, generally, the trauma experienced by Palestinian children is evident in their vocabulary, their values and their selection of games and toys, the composition of drawings and other works of art.
A common theme in their drawings is the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, especially Israeli soldiers and settlements.
The fear expressed in ordinary play and art is mixed with past fears (Punamaki, 1987). In fact, some studies suggest that repeated exposure to the sound of gunshots and bombs is the main cause of the psychological problems of three quarters of the affected children.
As a result, many of these children suffer from sleep disorders, panic attacks, headaches or stomachaches, anxiety and personality changes that point to increasingly aggressive behavior.
According to the UNICEF report (2006) Palestinian children are exposed to “a psychological tension that increases every day”, which has led to a “radical” change in their lives and behaviors since the beginning of the second Intifada. They have been confined with their families to their homes under curfew, without water, electricity or even food.
The Palestinian child is born with an imposed situation of aggression towards him and his people, that is, in a climate of constant insecurity, abnormality and violence.
Due to their constant exposure to the violence of the occupation, the children suffer significant psychological alterations. They perceive themselves and their environment three times more negatively than those who have not suffered the consequences of the violence.
The internal psychological disorder generated by trauma, such as aggression, leads to the destructuring of the self. The same could be said of children exposed to violence by prolonged armed conflict in other parts of the world such as Syria or Sudan.