European Commission funds support for Palestinian children caught in conflict
By Jane O’Brien
NEW YORK, USA, 4 October 2006 – Ninety-one children have been killed already this year in the West Bank and Gaza, almost double the number killed during the whole of 2005. Fear and violence are part of daily life in the occupied Palestinian territory, and children are suffering from increasing levels of stress.
“They are confronted with regular military operations, shelling, house demolitions, checkpoints on their way to schools,” says UNICEF Child Protection Officer Anne Grandjean. “As a result, we find a high prevalence of signs of stress such as anxiety, eating and sleeping disorders, and difficulties concentrating in school.
“All of these signs need to be tackled as soon as possible to avoid a long-lasting impact on the child’s development.”
UNICEF and the Humanitarian Aid Department of the European Commission have established teams of social workers and psychologists to respond to Palestinian children’s needs. Every month they reach some 3,000 children and their families, offering support and counselling in the aftermath of any violent event. If children need further help – and 5 per cent do – they are referred to a specialist agency.
“The Humanitarian Aid Department has an excellent relationship with UNICEF,” says European Commission aid expert Herve Caiveau. “Together we can reach children in need in a very fast way. For example, UNICEF, with our funds and through the psychosocial teams, provides immediate support to children in need, like these in Gaza.”
The counselling sessions conclude every month with a festival and beach party organized by UNICEF and its partners. Thousands of children are given the chance to play and interact with each other away from the conflict.
“These festivals are important because they are about protecting childhood,” says UNICEF’s Special Representative in Gaza and the West Bank, Dan Rohrmann. “It’s an opportunity for children to be children, which is rare here in Gaza, because they live in an environment of extraordinary fear and violence and insecurity.”
Parents and caregivers are also given education on how to better protect their children, lessen their children’s anxiety in times of conflict and deal with their own stress.
Thanks to funding from the European Commission and UNICEF’s emergency preparedness budget, supplies and planning were in place when the current conflict in Gaza began. This support has ensured that Palestinian children and their families can receive assistance as quickly as possible.