Children in emergencies and conflicts constitutes the effects of situations that pose detrimental risks to the health, safety, and well-being of children. There are many different kinds of conflicts and emergencies, for example, violence, armed conflicts, war, natural disasters, etc. Approximately 13 million children are displaced by armed conflicts and violence around the world. Where violent conflicts are the norm, the lives of young children are significantly disrupted and their families have great difficulty in offering the sensitive and consistent care that young children need for their healthy development. Studies on the effect of emergencies and conflict on the physical and mental health of children between birth and 8 years old show that where the disaster is natural, the rate of PTSD occurs in anywhere from 3 to 87 per cent of affected children.
Supporting young children during emergency and conflict situations
Early childhood care and education (ECCE) is a multisectoral field that holistically addresses children’s multiple needs. During emergencies ECCE supportive services may address a range of issues including prenatal care, immunization, nutrition, education, psychosocial support and community engagement. Coordinated services of health and nutrition, water sanitation and hygiene, early learning, mental health and protection are considered essential in supporting young children living under emergencies and conflicts.
Many programmes and strategies, whether in the formal or non-formal education sector, have proved to be very supportive to the well-being and recovery of young children living in areas of conflict. Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) programmes have been found valuable in creating a sense of normality and providing coping skills and resilience to children affected by emergencies. Child Friendly Spaces help children develop social skills and competencies such as sharing and cooperation through interaction with other children. They also offer opportunities to learn about risks in their environment and build life skills, such as literacy and non-violent conflict resolution, and provide a useful means of mobilizing communities around children’s needs. In an effort to strengthen community systems of child protection, Christian Children’s Fund (CCF) established three centres for internally displaced young children in Unyama (Uganda) camp that provided a safe, adult-supervised place for young children between 3 and 6 years of age. War Child established six ‘safe spaces’ in schools in northern Lebanon for displaced Syrian children where counsellors used art and music therapy to help young children express their emotions in a healthy way.
Several studies show that children who have participated in quality education programmes within schools tend to have better knowledge of hazards, reduced levels of fear and more realistic risk perceptions than their peers. In such contexts, psychosocial intervention programmes for young children and their families are considered to be vital. Interventions such as storytelling, singing, jumping rope, role-play activities, team sports and writing and drawing exercises helped to reduce psychological distress associated with exposure to conflict-related violence in Sierra Leone for children aged 8 to 18. Studies in Eritrea and Sierra Leone revealed that children’s psychosocial well-being was improved by well-designed educational interventions. In Afghanistan, young children and adolescents gained a sense of stability and security after their involvement in constructive activities (e.g. art, narrative, sports) which took place in neutral safe places within their communities.