Now in its sixth week, ongoing protests at the border between Gaza and Israel have left over 40 killed and more than 5,500 injured since its inception in March.
Since 2007, Gaza has faced an economic blockade by Israel and Egypt, contributing to a persistent humanitarian crisis.
According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), half of the region’s children depend on humanitarian assistance and one in four needs psychological social care.
“The escalating violence in Gaza has exacerbated the suffering of children whose lives have already been unbearably difficult for several years,” said UNICEF’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Geert Cappelaere.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on Israeli forces to curb the use of “lethal force against unarmed demonstrators,” while questioning “how children…can present a threat of imminent death or serious injury to heavily protected security force personnel.”
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) found that children living in the Gaza Strip are experiencing are showing increasing signs of psychosocial deterioration since clashes reignited in the region.
“The violence children are witnessing in Gaza comes on top of an already worsening situation negatively impacting their mental wellbeing,” said NRC Secretary General Jan Egeland. “They have faced three devastating wars and have been living under occupation for the past 11. Now they are once again faced with the horrifying prospect of losing their loved ones, as they see more and more friends and relatives getting killed and injured,” he continued.
NRC’s study found that 56 per cent reported they were suffering from nightmares. Principals from 20 schools also reported a rise in symptoms of post-traumatic stress in children, including fears, anxiety, stress and nightmares. The principals ranked increased psychosocial support in schools as their top need currently.
“For the children we work with, the nightmares continue for months and years after the violence that causes them. For these children they don’t have a chance to recover from previous trauma before fresh layers arise. That builds up,” said Jon-Håkon Schultz, Professor in Educational Psychology at the University of Tromsø in Norway. “We need people to look seriously and invest in ways that we can counter these harmful psychological impacts,” he added.
Apart from the symptoms of severe distress and trauma, Geert added that children are also experiencing physical injuries.
The United States’ recent move to cut aid to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees further threatens the already very fragile community.
In addition, there is a lack of medicine and health equipment while power cuts and fuel shortages have disrupted water and sanitation services leaving nine out of 10 families without regular access to safe water.
If such trends continue, the UN has predicted that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020.