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Beyond The Hunger, Illness, and Cold
Afghan Children Wage Battle With Their Fear

They cry and wake up at night and refuse to leave their mother's side, or their grandmother's side. It has been terrible to watch, because I watched my children go through the same thing.

Mr. Azizi, , UNICEF Staff member

ISLAMABAD / GENEVA / NEW YORK, 16 November 2001 - Dusting off a 1997 study of child trauma in Kabul and comparing it with the latest anecdotal evidence emerging from Afghanistan, the United nations Children's Fund said today there are strong indications that long after the fighting ends, the nightmare will continue for Afghan children.

Accounts from Kabul and other parts of the country affected by recent warfare indicate that children are experiencing traumatic stress similar to that found in the UNICEF study in Kabul four years ago - the last time the city experienced direct conflict.

The findings of the 1997 report clearly showed that the war trauma experienced by children in Afghanistan - a country which has been in conflict for more than 20 years - is chronic, and the psychological impact is not short-lived. The violence that they have experienced has been and will continue to be hugely influential in their emotional development and has dramatically affected their views of themselves and of their future.

An atmosphere of uncertainty, coupled with explosions, gunfire and the sight of dead bodies in the streets are all factors in this trauma. School teachers in Kabul report that many of their pupils have been suffering from sleeplessness, nightmares and anxiety. Problems in concentrating have affected their ability to study properly at school, their appetite and their ability to play.

A UNICEF staff member who has spent the last two months in Kabul said that his grandchildren were exhibiting classic symptoms of stress-related trauma. "They cry and wake up at night and refuse to leave their mother's side, or their grandmother's side. It has been terrible to watch, because I watched my children go through the same thing," the staff member, Mr. Azizi, said.

"Afghan children are experiencing not only the hardships of physical survival, but the fear and hardships of emotional trauma," said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF. "As we look ahead to the recovery and rehabilitation of Afghanistan as a nation, we must work hard on the emotional recovery and rehabilitation of Afghanistan's children. For Afghanistan to have a decent future, we must help children leave their nightmares behind."

The findings of the 1997 UNICEF study conducted among several hundred children in Kabul offer a hint of what Afghan children are coping with today. Nearly 100 per cent of the children witnessed acts of violence during the fighting, while two-thirds saw dead bodies or parts of bodies and nearly half saw multiple people killed in rocket and artillery attacks.

More disturbing were the findings of what impact these events and others had on the children:

  • Ninety per cent said they worried about what would happen to them in the future.
  • Three-quarters reported feeling constant fear, even when no immediate danger was present.
  • Over half said they had difficulty experiencing feelings of sadness or happiness of any kind.
  • Three-quarters of the children believed they would not live to adulthood.
  • And 8 in 10 children reported that they sometimes or often "feel so sad I can hardly cope with life."

Prior to September 11, UNICEF sponsored a number of emotional counselling programs in Afghanistan to help children who continued to struggle with the trauma of previous fighting. Re-establishing and expanding such programs will be a UNICEF priority when Afghanistan enters is rehabilitation phase.

"Our immediate priority is to help Afghan children survive this winter," said Dr. Eric Laroche, UNICEF Representative for Afghanistan. "But when the spring comes, they'll need a different kind of help. We're going to try to be ready to give it to them."


For further information, please contact:

Alfred Ironside, UNICEF Media, New York
e-mail aironside@unicef.org tel: (1-212) 326-7261 ***

Gordon Weiss, UNICEF Media, Islamabad (UNICEF Afghanistan) tel: (92-300) 856-6235 ***

Wivina Belmonte, UNICEF Media, Geneva e-mail: wbelmonte@unicef.org tel: (41-22) 909-5509


Speeches and Press releases on Afghanistan and region