* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A shocking new report published today by children’s charity Theirworld warns that millions of vulnerable babies affected by conflicts and disasters will suffer from psychological trauma, toxic stress and poor brain development unless the international community starts to prioritise the youngest children in emergency response.
More than 16 million babies were born in conflict zones in 2015 — an average of 43,835 per day- and not planning for and financing early childhood development services in emergencies, ensuring ‘Safe Spaces’ for all children, can have lifelong detrimental effects.
Despite the scale of the need, more than 60% of all education aid appeals lack clear plans for early learning programmes or psychosocial support for children under five to access the safe spaces they need to learn, grow and recover.
Sarah Brown, President of Theirworld, said, “We know that 80% of brain development is completed by age 3 — 90% by age 5. Babies and toddlers absolutely cannot afford to wait for the end of a crisis to learn, play, and receive care. Children are incredibly adaptable and resilient. With proper services and support, and close relationships with nurturing caregivers, they will not only survive emergencies but manage to thrive in spite of even the most adverse circumstances.”
After five years of war in Syria, 3.7 million children — or one in three of all Syrian children — have only ever known life in a violent conflict, and 306,000 Syrian babies were born as refugees.
Zeinah* a psycho-social support expert working with Syrian children in Turkey said, “Safe child friendly spaces are helping the youngest children to forget and recover from what they have been through in Syria. Children are psychologically and physically affected by the war. When they first come they don’t interact with other children and hardly speak. Sometimes children as young as 3 and 4 are telling me about their dreams, they are seeing war in their dreams, people have died, often relatives and loved ones.”
“I deal with each case individually and over time most children are getting better. The children are able to laugh more, play with their friends and be more interactive. Parents have a lot of pressure and stress at home, they cannot always pay interest in their children but it is important to work with the parents to get more involved with their children to support their early development needs.” added Zeinah*
Early learning programmes increase young children’s readiness for school and improve learning outcomes, which is especially important in emergencies, as children living through conflict are much more likely to be excluded from school or fall behind academically.
Theirworld is working to ensure that more attention and resources in this critical time in a child’s life is prioritised. The international community together must ensure all babies, young children and their caregivers have access to safe spaces where they can get everything they need to grow and thrive in emergency, conflict or vulnerable environments.