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Psycho-social support for children caught in violence on Egypt's streets

By Hala Abu Khatwa

CAIRO, Egypt, 22 FEBRUARY 2011 – UNICEF has launched a psycho-social support programme for children who were affected by violence during the uprising in Egypt in recent weeks.

VIDEO: UNICEF's Hala Abu Khatwa reports on children who were affected by violence during the recent uprising in Egypt and the launch of a psycho-social programme by UNICEF and Egyptian partners to help children at risk nationwide to cope with their psychological distress.  Watch in RealPlayer


Following days of peaceful mass protests that started on 25 January, demonstrations turned violent when clashes broke out among demonstrators, police forces and counter-demonstrators. The last group 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 of all ages, including children, went out on the streets and formed citizen groups to protect their neighbourhoods until the armed forces could restore security on Friday, 4 February.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0224/LeMoyne
An injured boy chanting during protests at Tahrir square.

Caught in the clashes

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

“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 UNICEF Representative in Egypt Philippe Duamelle.  

“Children need help to come to terms with the violence and feeling of insecurity they have seen or experienced,” he added.

Help for children at risk

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 schoolchildren nationwide, to overcome their psychological distress.

© UNICEF Egypt/2011/Aql
A child sleeps in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the recent protests in Egypt.

Social workers and teachers are being trained to identify signs of trauma and stress, 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.  Psychologists will provide special on-the-job coaching to teachers and social workers in the areas that were most affected.

According to Dr. Hashem Bahary, professor of psychology at Al-Azhar University, up to 30 per cent 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,” said Dr. Bahary. “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.”

Impact in the streets

The most seriously affected young people are the tens of thousands of children who live and work on the streets of Cairo and other major cities. Testimony from children living in the streets indicates that 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 ’til we felt she was getting better.”  

*Mohamed, 15, said he went to the protests to join the crowd.  “People were throwing tear [gas] bombs at us and firing rubber bullets,” he recalled. “I was hit by a rubber bullet in my hand.  It was painful and I went to the doctor to remove it.”  

The UNICEF psycho-social support programme will help children like Maha and Mohamed overcome the effects of these experiences and face the future with more confidence.

*Adolescents' names have been changed to protect their identities.



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