Updated 11 months ago

Growing up in a conflict zone puts brain development at risk

Recent UNICEF report said more than 86.7 million children under the age of seven have spent their entire life in conflict zones. They are exposed to life-long consequences to their cognitive, social and physical development caused by stress and trauma.

“In addition to the immediate physical threats that children in crises face, they are also at risk of deep-rooted emotional scars,” said UNICEF Chief of Early Child Development Pia Britto in a press release.

She highlights the need of providing both children and caregivers the adequate supplies for learning, psychological support and safe environments to restore their sense of childhood even in the middle of the conflict.

According to the report it depends on early childhood development (breastfeeding, early nutrition, early stimulation by caregivers, early learning opportunities and growing up in a safe healthy environment) whether the brain reaches its full adult capacity.

Other studies carried out in Colombia and Syria give a picture of children's situation in conflict zones. The first with 4 years of peace talks in over five decades of conflict and the other with 5 years being the center of a devastating war in the Middle East.

Recent figures showed that at least 3,7 million children under five in Syria have only known the conflict as their reality. Over 2,4 million are child refugees, and an estimate of 8.4 million are in need both in Syria and the neighboring countries.

More so, 2.8 million children are out of school. 70% of the country's children lack access to safe drinking water and Syria's development has been pushed back almost four decades with children as young as three years old working.

In Colombia, since the conflict began 4 out of 5 people under 50 have never known what it means to live in peace. From the 7.6 million people considered as victims 2.5 are children.

Children under 15 represent 12% of displaced people, 15% and 17% of survivors of sexual violence and torture respectively.

Since the peace talks began in 2012 the number of displaced children went down, reaching 40,000 last year, but at least 1000 have been recruited into armed groups. In the last 4 years more than 250,000 children have been affected and they represent up to 40% of out-of-school population.

Both conditions in Syria and Colombia endanger the development of a generation. UNICEF has plans to change children's situation given each conflict's characteristics. Globally it states it has supported more than 800,000 children in emergency contexts in the last year through emergency kits that contain learning and play materials.

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