News Column

War-children

May 9, 2014

Zeeba T. Hashmi



By taking into consideration various derivatives that influence children’s mental health, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has been increasingly found in children facing war, or similar conditions such as incidents of terrorism, and natural disasters. Scientific observation and a review of literature on the subject reveals a strong correlation between war/terrorism and mental disorders in children.

War and terrorism is differentiated by their level of intensity and persistence. For the convenience of readers, to understand why different levels of mental disorders occur in children as a result of different types of conflict, it is important to understand that war, according to Durant’s book, History of Civilization (1968), has remained constant throughout history, and is inevitable. Because of the recurrent nature of conflict, children stand most vulnerable and exposed to the tragic effects of war.

From a historical perspective, children’s exposure to wars consistently found a commonality with the current trends in behavior of war-children. The disorder is observed from a demographical perspective by comparing the levels of PTSD between children living in war/conflict zones and children living in areas of high incidents of terrorism.

By assessing the long term effects of such exposure, it is argued that even when the war has ended, the effects of the conflict are prolonged in children due to secondary influences. In observing children growing up under conditions of orphan hood, malnourishment, living as refugees, lack of proper care etc, it has been found from statistical data that these children often exhibit severe symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress for a very long time, and sometimes, throughout their lives. Evidence has also been found of neurological effects in war-children that include disorders such as aggressive control problems, anxiety, and sometimes early death. There is also a positive correlation between post traumatic stress and serious depression.

By being critical of the impacts of war and conflict on the health of children, the arbitrary actions undertaken by the Security Council which frequently impose sanctions on countries of conflict, indirectly affects the refugees and war-children in need of most assistance and mental security. Further, the media is also to be blamed for creating an atmosphere of persisting trauma for the public during incidents of terrorism, as a result of which, children are instilled with the same (sometimes exaggerated) fears of adults.

Focus is required on other dimensions that can elaborate on the vulnerabilities children face during war, and the preventive measures that can be taken to protect them, or safeguard them from exploitation. Though some protective factors have been identified that can help a child recognize and avoid danger, including his/her ability to use adults as caretakers etc, there have not been any suggestions on the logistical probability of incorporating these measures as a child’s instinctive defensive mechanism.

The same is true for children in the war torn areas of Pakistan, and yet no importance is given to their psychological deteriorations. Another dimension faced by the children here is child recruitment by militant outfits who train and brainwash them in their most formative years. These children are fed with hate literature and are inculcated with a sense of revenge by feeding them lies that make suicide attacks seem justified.

If we care to notice, most of the bodies recovered of the suicide bombers were very young; they were either in their teens or early twenties. This is an aspect that has been deeply neglected by the state when dealing with such seminaries, especially in the tribal areas which are used to recruit young children, either by giving incentives to their poor parents or by threatening them with their lives for not sending their children to them.

Some children recruited by terrorist outfits have been rescued by the army. Experiments were undertaken to “de-radicalize” them, but no result has been declared on what the success of the exercise has been

Other children who face psychological problems and are prone to mental shock are those who have been affected by terrorist activities and military actions. These are the children who have lost their loved ones, their guardians, their bodies and limbs in combat, and the shock never leaves them. Proper therapeutic treatment is desperately needed to help them cope with life, and become functioning members of mainstream society. Many in Pakistan, one may argue, are victims of PTSD in recent years in one way or the other, but children caught in violent combat are the most vulnerable victims. Under these circumstances, children cannot reflect, be creative, be educated, be fearless; in other words they cannot be children. As such, they will grow up to become half-members of society, forever caught in a war that took from them not just materially, but from every dimension of their existence.


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Source: Nation (Pakistan)


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