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Psycho-social support for children in Egypt

During the recent demonstrations, a child joins with adults at Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt.

By Hala Abu Khatwa

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Cairo-February 18th, 2011 - UNICEF launched today a psycho-social support programme for children who were exposed to or victims of violence during the uprising in Egypt in the past weeks.

Following days of peaceful mass protests that started on January 25th, demonstrations turned violent when clashes broke out between demonstrators, police forces and counter-demonstrators, which reportedly included hired thugs.  In addition, the withdrawal of the police from the streets and the escape of thousands of prisoners led to incidents of looting and increased fear among families. As a result, people including children went on to the streets, forming citizen groups to protect their neighborhoods until the Armed Forces could restore security. 

According to the latest preliminary figures announced by the Ministry of Health and human rights organizations, 365 people were killed during the events, including 13 children, and thousands of people were injured in different governorates.

“All reported deaths and injuries, particularly of children, as well as reports of children being paid to participate in counter demonstrations, and of children being detained should be thoroughly investigated, and children’s rights fully protected” said Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF Representative in Egypt.  

“Children need help to come to terms with the violence and feeling of insecurity they have seen or experienced,” he added.
The psycho-social programme that UNICEF and its national partners have put in place will help children at risk in Cairo and Alexandria, as well as school children nationwide, to overcome their psychological distress.

Social workers and teachers are being trained to identify signs of trauma and distress, provide psychological support and refer cases to specialized services when needed.  The training will also be offered via video conferencing to reach teachers across the country.  Special on-the -job coaching will be provided by psychologists to teachers and social workers in areas that were most affected.

According to Dr Hashem Bahary, professor of psychology at
Al- Azhar University, up to 30% of Egyptian children may suffer from anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsion.

“In this psycho-social programme we are preparing the teacher, the psychologist and the social worker to communicate actively with the children.  This communication is based on listening and arts in order to give children a chance to express themselves accurately and this of course will reduce their anxiety,” Dr. Bahary said.

However, the most seriously affected children are the tens of thousands of children who live and work on the streets of Cairo and other major cities. Testimonies from children living in the streets indicate they were exposed to severe violence, witnessing people killed and badly injured. 

Maha  , 18, explains how her 16-year-old friend was shot. “We were in the middle of the crowd.  She was shot in the back, so we took her to hospital and remained beside her till we felt she was getting better.” 
Fifteen-year-old Mohamed said that he went to the protests to join the crowd.  “People were throwing tear bombs at us and firing rubber bullets, I was hit by a rubber bullet in my hand.  It was painful and I went to the doctor to remove it.”  

The pscho-social support programme will help children like Maha and others to overcome their experiences and face the future with more confidence. 



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