- Psychosocial impact of violence on children
- The ways in which children respond to the stress of armed conflict will depend on their own particular circumstances. These include individual factors such as age, sex, personality type, personal and family history and cultural background. Other factors will be linked to the nature of the traumatic events, including their frequency and the length of the exposure. Children who suffer from stress display a wide range of symptoms, including increased separation anxiety and developmental delays, sleep disturbances and nightmares, lack of appetite, withdrawn behaviour, lack of interest in play, and, in younger children, learning difficulties. In older children and adolescents, responses to stress can include anxious or aggressive behaviour and depression.
- Relatively little is known about the psychosocial long-term effects of recent lengthy civil wars. The loss of parents and other close family members leaves a life-long impression and can dramatically alter life pathways.
During the events marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Second World War, many people recalled the pain and sorrow they suffered as children at the loss of loved ones and described how such losses continue to affect them.
- All cultures recognize adolescence as a highly significant period in which young people learn future roles and incorporate the values and norms of their societies. The extreme and often prolonged circumstances of armed conflict interfere with identity development. As a result, many adolescents – especially those who have had severely distressing experiences – cannot conceive of any future for themselves. They may view their lives very pessimistically, suffer from serious depression or, in the worst of circumstances, commit suicide. They may not wish to seek help or support from adults. Moreover, sudden changes in family circumstances, such as the death or disappearance of parents, can leave youth without guidance, role models and sustenance. During conflicts, some adolescents become responsible for the care of younger siblings. Youth are also often under pressure to actively join in the conflict, or are threatened with forced recruitment. Despite all of this, adolescents, during or after wars, seldom receive any special attention or assistance. This is a matter of urgent concern.
- In addition to the suffering they undergo as a result of their own difficult experiences, children of all ages also take cues from their adult care-givers. Seeing their parents or other important adults in their lives as vulnerable can severely undermine children’s confidence and add to their sense of fear. When armed conflict causes a change in the behaviour of adults, such as extreme protectiveness or authoritarianism, children find it very difficult to understand.
- Best practices for recovery programmes
- All programmes for children should take into account the rights of children and their developmental needs. They should also incorporate best practices that emphasize knowledge and respect for local culture and traditions and ensure ongoing consultation and participation with local authorities and communities. Programmes must have a long-term perspective and be flexible enough to adapt to the changing circumstances of armed conflict. They must also be sustainable and continue well after the conflict.
- Experience has shown that with supportive care-givers and secure communities, most children will achieve a sense of healing and some will prove remarkably resilient. A large group of unaccompanied boys from southern Sudan, for example, arrived in Ethiopia after a long and harrowing journey on foot. These were boys who had been trained from an early age to survive in harsh conditions, away from home, in nomadic cattle camps. When they reached the relative safety of refugee camps, they were able to recuperate quickly.
- The ways in which individuals and communities cope with, react to and understand stressful events can differ markedly from one culture to another. Although many symptoms of distress have universal characteristics, the ways in which people express, embody and give meaning to their distress are largely dependent on social, cultural, political and economic contexts. Likewise, the manner in which different cultures deal with manifestations of emotional distress is based on different belief systems. In some eastern spiritual traditions, for example, the body and mind are perceived as a continuum of the natural world. Indeed, in many ethno-medical systems, the body and the mind are always dependent on the actions of others, including spirits and ancestors. In Angola, for example, and in many areas of Africa, the main sources of trauma are considered to be spiritual. If a child’s mother dies in armed conflict and the child flees without having conducted the proper burial ritual, the child will live with the strong fear that the mother’s spirit will cause harm. Western diagnostic approaches can be ill-suited to a context in which people are more likely to turn for assistance to family, friends and traditional healers than to seek medical help for their problems.
- Psychotherapeutic approaches based on western mental health traditions tend to emphasize individual emotional expression. This method may not be feasible in all contexts. While many forms of external intervention can help promote psychosocial recovery, experience with war trauma programmes has shown that even those designed with the best intentions can do harm. Some organizations, for example, put a great deal of emphasis on trauma therapy in residential treatment centres. Exploring a child’s previous experience with violence and the meaning that it holds in her or his life is important to the process of healing and recovery. However, such an exploration should take place in a stable, supportive environment, by care-givers who have solid and continuing relationships with the child. In-depth clinical interviews intended to awaken the memories and feelings associated with a child’s worst moments risk leaving the child in more severe pain and agitation than before, especially if the interviews are conducted without ongoing support for followu
- Another difficulty is faced when journalists or researchers encourage children to relate horror stories. Such interviews can open up old wounds and tear down a child’s defences. Children who are photographed and identified by name can be exposed to additional problems and harassment. Journalists and researchers must carry out their important work with awareness of the ethical issues at stake. For example, there should be an understanding in advance of the kind of information that is confidential and should not be used.
- Best practice emphasizes that the most effective and sustainable approach is to mobilize the existing social care system. This may, for example, involve mobilizing a refugee community to support suitable foster families for unaccompanied children. Through training, and raising the awareness of central care-givers including parents, teachers and community and health workers, a diversity of programmes can enhance the community’s ability to provide care for its children and vulnerable groups. Building expensive facilities and removing children to them is not a sustainable approach. Institutionalizing children and identifying them as traumatized can impose an inadvertent stigma and contribute to isolation and withdrawal. Nor should groups of children who have had especially traumatic experiences, such as former child soldiers or unaccompanied children, be segregated from the community, since this will contribute to further risk, distress and marginalization. At regional consultations in Africa and Europe, as well as during several field trips, the importance of urging Governments, donors and programme practitioners to minimize and actively avoid institutional approaches was emphasized.
- Those who wish to help with healing should have a deep understanding of and respect for the societies in which they are working. Aside from knowing the basic principles of child development and the way it is understood locally, they should also understand local culture and practices, including the rites and ceremonies related to growing up and becoming an adult as well as those associated with death, burial and mourning. People involved in healing should be aware, for example, of what children are told about the death of their parents, how they are expected to behave when they experience distressing events and what actions might be taken to give “cleansing” to a girl who has been raped or to a child who has killed someone.
- Integrating modern knowledge of child development and child rights with traditional concepts and practices may take time, but it will result in more effective and sustainable ways to meet children’s needs. In research contributed to the present study, the International Save the Children Alliance identified a number of principles and activities that promote healing by fostering a sense of purpose, self-esteem and identity. These include establishing a sense of normalcy through daily routines such as going to school, preparing food, washing clothes and working in the fields. Children also need the intellectual and emotional stimulation that is provided by structured group activities such as play, sports, drawing and storytelling.
The most important factor contributing to a child’s resilience is the opportunity for expression, attachment and trust that comes from a stable, caring and nurturing relationship with adults.
- Children who have been continually exposed to violence almost always
experience a significant change in their beliefs and attitudes, including a fundamental loss of trust in others. This is especially true of children who have been attacked or abused by people previously considered neighbours or friends, as happened in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. At a seminar convened on behalf of the study, a Bosnian boy told of this devastation: “We spent our childhood together. I saw him and hoped that he would save my life. He was ready to kill me”. Rebuilding the ability to trust is a universal challenge in the wake of conflicts, but it is particularly important for those who are a part of children’s daily lives. Establishing good relationships with children involves playing with, listening to and supporting them, as well as keeping promises.
- Families and communities can better promote the psychosocial well-being of their children when they themselves feel relatively secure and confident about the future. Recognizing that families and communities are often fragmented and weakened by armed conflict, programmes should focus on supporting survivors in their efforts to heal and rebuild their social networks. It is therefore vital that all forms of external help be given in such a way as to enhance people’s ability to help themselves. This should include, for example, assisting parents and teachers to communicate with children on difficult issues. Reconstructing a social web and a sense of community helps people act together to improve their lives. It is particularly important that aid programmes include women at an early stage in making decisions about designing, delivering and evaluating initiatives. The process of evaluation can draw upon its relevance for the community, the improved capacities of parents and care-givers to support child development, and the enhanced abilities of children to form relationships and to function well in school and other activities.
- In order to ensure that their needs are met, young people should themselves be involved in community-based relief, recovery and reconstruction programmes. This can be achieved through vocational and skills training that not only helps to augment their income, but also increases their sense of identity and self-worth in ways that enhance healing. One way in which programmes have succeeded in giving adolescents a sense of meaning and purpose is to involve them in developing and implementing programmes for younger children.
- Specific recommendations to promote psychosocial well-being
- The expert submits the following recommendations to promote psychosocial well-being:
- All phases of emergency and reconstruction assistance programmes should take psychosocial considerations into account, while avoiding the development of separate mental health programmes. They should also give priority to preventing further traumatic experience;
- Rather than focusing on a child’s emotional wounds, programmes should aim to support healing processes and to re-establish a sense of normalcy. This should include establishing daily routines of family and community life, opportunity for expression and structured activities such as school, play and sports;
- c) Programmes to support psychosocial well-being should include local culture, perceptions of child development, an understanding of political and social realities and children’s rights. care network around children;
(d) Governments, donors and relief institutionalization of children. When vulnerable, such as child soldiers, are should be done with full cooperation of long-term reintegration.
They should mobilize the community organizations should prevent the groups of children considered singled out for special attention, it the community so as to ensure their
- Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child underlines the right to education, and article 29 states that education should develop the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential. Education also serves much broader functions. It gives shape and structure to children’s lives and can instil community values, promote justice and respect for human rights and enhance peace, stability and interdependence.
- Education is particularly important at times of armed conflict. While all around may be in chaos, schooling can represent a state of normalcy.
School children have the chance to be with friends and enjoy their support and encouragement. They benefit from regular contacts with teachers who can monitor their physical and psychological health. Teachers can also help children to develop new skills and knowledge necessary for survival and coping, including mine awareness, negotiation and problem solving and information about HIV/AIDS and other health issues. Formal education also benefits the community as a whole. The ability to carry on schooling in the most difficult circumstances demonstrates confidence in the future: communities that still have a school feel they have something durable and worthy of protection.
- Risks to education during conflict
- Schools are targeted during war, in part because they have such high profiles. In rural areas, the school building may be the only substantial permanent structure, making it highly susceptible to shelling, closure or looting. In Mozambique, for example, a study prepared for the present report estimated that 45 per cent of primary school networks were destroyed. Often, local teachers are also prime targets because they are important community members and tend to be more than usually politicized. According to the above- mentioned study, during the crisis in Rwanda, more than two-thirds of teachers either fled or were killed. The destruction of educational infrastructures represents one of the greatest developmental setbacks for countries affected by conflict. Years of lost schooling and vocational skills will take equivalent years to replace and their absence imposes a greater vulnerability on the ability of societies to recover after war.
- Formal education is also generally at risk during war because it relies on consistent funding and administrative support that is difficult to sustain during political turmoil. During the fighting in Somalia and under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, public expenditure on education was reduced to nearly nothing.
- It is less difficult to maintain educational services during low-intensity conflicts, as in Sri Lanka and Peru, and schooling is likely to continue during periodic lulls in countries where fighting is intermittent or seasonal. Even where services are maintained, however, education will be of lower quality. Funds will be short and the supply of materials slow or erratic. In addition, fear and disruption make it difficult to create an atmosphere conducive to learning and the morale of both teachers and pupils is likely to be low. Studies in Palestinian schools reported that teachers and students had difficulty concentrating, particularly if they had witnessed or experienced violence or had family members in prison or in hiding. Teachers are also exposed to political pressure: in Kurdish areas in Turkey, for example, teachers have been threatened by non-state forces for continuing to teach the Turkish curriculum. In some countries, teachers have been forced to inform on students and their families. Teachers who go for long periods without salaries are more susceptible to corruption.
- Challenges and opportunities
- Though still inadequate, relief programmes direct most attention in times of armed conflict to the education of refugee children. This is partly because, when children are massed together in camps, there are economies of scale and it is easier to approximate a classroom situation. In some countries, this reality simply reflects the dominance of inflexible formal education systems that persist despite growing doubts about their quality, relevance and content. Insufficient attention to the education needs of non-refugees during armed conflict is also attributable to the fact that some of the donors most active during conflicts are constrained by their mandates to work exclusively with refugees. Other donors have been reluctant to use emergency funds for what they have chosen to interpret as long-term development activities.
- The education needs of children remaining within conflict zones must be met. The expert calls, therefore, for educational activity to be established as a priority component of all humanitarian assistance. Educational administrators who wish to ensure continuity must, when possible, collaborate closely with local political and military authorities and be assured of considerable support from a wide range of community groups and NGOs. Indeed, where public sector agencies are absent or severely weakened, such groups may provide the only viable institutional frameworks.
- Since schools are likely to be targets, one element of the planning process should be to establish alternative sites for classrooms, changing the venues regularly. In Eritrea in the late 1980s, classes were often held under trees, in caves or in camouflaged huts built from sticks and foliage. Similar arrangements were made during the height of the fighting in many places in the former Yugoslavia, where classes were held in the cellars of people’s homes, often by candlelight. During the field trip to Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, many people stressed to the expert the importance of maintaining education, no matter how difficult the circumstances.
- Education can also incorporate flexible systems of distance learning after the conflict has ended, which can be cost-effective when school facilities have been destroyed and teachers have been lost. These involve home or group study using pre-packaged teaching materials complemented by broadcast and recorded media. Such systems are particularly valuable for girls when parents are reluctant to have them travel far from home. The statement of the Second Regional Consultation on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children in the Arab Region emphasized the importance of such programmes and called upon Governments, educators, NGOs and concerned international bodies to ensure that formal, non-formal and informal education interventions are delivered through a variety of community channels.
- When children have been forced to leave their homes and are crowded into displaced persons camps, establishing schooling systems as soon as possible reassures everyone by signalling a degree of stability and a return to normal roles and relationships within the family and the community. Such education requires only the most basic materials. One important innovation in recent years has been the development by UNESCO and UNICEF of a teacher’s emergency pack (TEP), otherwise known as “school-in-a-box”. The pack contains very basic items including a brush and paint for a blackboard, chalk, paper, exercise books, pens and pencils. It was first used in Somalia in 1992 and further refined in the refugee camps in Djibouti. The packs were widely used for the rapid establishment of schools for Rwandan refugees at Ngara in Tanzania, where children attended primary grades in tents on a shift basis. Agreements with a number of international NGOs have led to several programmes in which the distribution of TEPs has been linked with teacher training and other initiatives. The TEP is intended to cover the first few months of emergency schooling. Longer-term initiatives require the development of materials tailored to specific groups of children.
- Notwithstanding the success of initiatives like TEP, the expert was particularly concerned to discover the lack of meaningful educational activity for adolescents, particularly at secondary school level. In situations of armed conflict, education can prove particularly effective in assisting the psychosocial well-being of adolescents and keeping them out of military service.
- Many modern educators prefer non-competitive learner-centred approaches that help foster self-confidence in children and develop a wide range of skills. The expert agrees, but cautions that such methods are still unfamiliar in many countries and must be introduced carefully in programmes so as not to disempower local teachers or confuse pupils. Special care should also be taken to adapt the methods and content of education to the social context. At the Second Regional Consultation in the Arab Region, it was suggested that local relevance could be facilitated by allowing parents, communities and children to play more active roles in the design, content and implementation of curricula and in flexible education methodologies. Youth volunteers and local community leaders should be involved in baseline assessments, which are a necessary first step in identifying the educational strengths and weaknesses that are available for those planning educational services in communities affected by conflict. During her field visit to Sierra Leone, the expert was encouraged by the enthusiasm shown for innovative educational alternatives, particularly for the training and deployment of mothers, adolescents and other non-traditional teachers in emergency programmes.
- Apart from emergency education programmes in camps, refugee children can sometimes attend regular schools in host countries, though very few get the opportunity to do so. Host States can be reluctant to allow refugee education, fearing that this will encourage refugees to remain permanently on their territory. The denial of education clearly contravenes both article 22 of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which require that States Parties provide refugee children with the same treatment as is accorded to nationals with respect to elementary education. The expert noted with grave concern that some host Governments refuse to provide, or to allow international agencies to provide, educational activity for refugee children. Despite active intervention and strong protests, UNHCR has sometimes proven unable to persuade Governments that such action is destructive to children. The expert calls upon the international community to support the efforts of United Nations bodies, specialized agencies and other organizations to meet more effectively the international standards for the care, protection and welfare of children. Further, host Governments, international agencies and other educational providers are urged to work more closely with the World Bank, UNICEF, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UNESCO to ensure that education services are part of both relief and immediate reconstruction activities. Upon their return home, children should be provided with access to continued schooling of a consistent level and quality.
- When international agencies and partners operate programmes for refugees in remote locations, there is a danger that the education standards will be higher for the refugees than for the local population. Clearly, local children should also be educated to at least a similar standard. This requires greater collaboration among international agencies, NGOs and host Governments.
- When refugee children attend local schools, they may need special programmes to help them fill knowledge gaps and learn the language. Even when language is not a barrier, children may still suffer harassment, discrimination or bullying unless school staff take preventive measures.
- Even when educational opportunities exist, parents may be reluctant to send their children to school during armed conflicts. Some need their children to work to contribute to the family economy; others are worried about what their children will learn. During the conflict between the Muslim and Croat factions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example, refugee parents were worried about the content of education, particularly in subjects like history, geography and literature. Some parents have religious objections to girls and boys attending school together after a certain age. The recent decision of the Taliban in Afghanistan to curtail girls’ access to education in the areas under their control has been of particular concern for United Nations specialized agencies and NGOs. The expert commends the difficult decisions taken by NGOs and agencies such as UNICEF to stop working in the affected areas until there is the possibility of equality of opportunity between girls and boys, and of implementing the agreed principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the World Declaration on Education for All and Framework for Action to Meet Basic Learning Needs adopted at Jomtien, Thailand, in 1990.
- The expert supports the call from the 1996 Inter-Agency Consultation on Education for Humanitarian Assistance and Refugees that post-conflict educational planning be initiated during emergencies with local, national and regional educational and resource actors, including the World Bank and others who are currently only involved in reconstruction efforts. Education has a vital role to play in rehabilitation, yet is rarely considered a priority in relief programmes. Educational initiatives developed for conflict situations should therefore be designed to allow for easy integration in the post-conflict period.
- Many Governments and specialized agencies have given easy priority to the physical reconstruction of schools, but rather less attention to teacher training and the development of new curricula and teaching methods. Even where the critical political will to invest in education has been present, education systems often suffer from a persistent shortage of funds.
- Countries that host refugees often lack resources; most host Governments in Africa have yet to achieve universal primary education for their own populations. Investment in education requires political commitment from Governments. The declaration of the 1990 World Conference on Education for All noted that many developing countries spent more on average on the military than on education and health combined. If countries continue to employ four times as many soldiers as teachers, education and social systems will remain fragile and inadequate and Governments will continue to fail children and break the promises made to them through ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. At the World Conference on Education for All, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNDP and the World Bank, called on Governments to adapt their spending priorities so as to achieve basic education for 80 per cent of the world’s children by the year 2000, and equality of educational opportunity for girls and boys. The expert fully supports this call and, further, wishes to encourage those bodies to reorder their own spending priorities, operational policies and partnerships to help ensure that the right to education is fulfilled for children caught up in situations of armed conflict.
- Specific recommendations on education
- The expert submits the following recommendations on education:
- All possible efforts should be made to maintain education systems during conflicts. The international community must insist that Government or non-state entities involved in conflicts do not target educational facilities, and indeed promote active protection of such services;
- Preparations should also be made for sustaining education outside of formal school buildings, using other community facilities and strengthening alternative education through a variety of community channels;
- Donors should extend the boundaries of emergency funding to include support for education. The establishment of educational activity, including the provision of teaching aids and basic educational materials, should be accepted as a priority component of humanitarian assistance;
- As soon as camps are established for refugees or internally displaced persons, children should be brought together for educational activities. Incentives for attendance should also be encouraged through, for example, measures to promote safety and security. Special emphasis should be placed on providing appropriate educational activities for adolescents.
Besides promoting access to secondary education, the expert urges Governments, international agencies and NGOs to develop age-appropriate educational programmes for out of school youth, in order to address their special needs and reflect their rights to participation;
- Support for the re-establishment and continuity of education must be a priority strategy for donors and NGOs in conflict and post-conflict situations. Training should equip teachers to deal with new requirements. These will include recognizing signs of stress in children as well as imparting vital survival information on issues such as landmines, health and promoting respect for human rights;
- The expert urges the Committee on the Rights of the Child to issue strong guidance to States Parties on the interpretation of articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child relating to their responsibility to provide education to children.