Many Syrian children live in a state of “toxic stress” as one in four children still inside the war-torn country is at risk of developing mental health disorders, according to a new study by Save the Children.
Turning to self-harm, drugs and alcohol or joining armed groups are among the consequences already seen among children and teenagers still living inside Syria, the group said.
“At least 3 million Syrian children under the age of six know nothing but war, and millions more have grown up in fear under the shadow of conflict,” said the aid organisation in a new report titled “Invisible Wounds.”
“The prolonged exposure to war, stress and uncertainty, means that many children are in a state of ‘toxic stress’,” it adds.
The research, which took place between December 2016 and February 2017, found that biggest source of fear is from bombing and shelling.
“I hate the aeroplane, because it killed my Dad,” Marwan, a little boy, is quoted as saying three times during a focus group held for the study.
The research “revealed heartbreaking accounts of children terrified by the shelling and airstrikes, anxious about the future, and distraught at not being able to go to school."
The London-based group said they talked to more than 450 children, adolescents and adults inside seven of Syria’s provinces – mainly rebel-held areas.
Seventy-one percent of respondents said that children increasingly suffer from frequent bedwetting and involuntary urination – both common symptoms of toxic stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among children.
Almost half of adults said they have seen children who lost the ability to speak or developed speech impediments, while 59 percent of adults know of children and adolescents who have been recruited into armed groups.
Around 400,000 people are thought to have died in the Syrian civil war, which began in March 2011 with the violent quelling of peaceful demonstrations against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
The conflict has spiralled into a four-way civil war that has driven about half the pre-war population of 22 million from their homes.
“After six years of war, however, many of Syria’s children have lost much critical time for development, and the long-term damage has the potential to become irreversible and permanent,” Alexandra Chen, Child Protection and Mental Health Specialist based at Harvard University, wrote in the report.
In all areas surveyed, children, parents and caregivers said the lack of schools and education has an enormous impact on children’s well-being and leaves them fearful for their future.
“What if I get old and I continue on this same path and I lose out on my entire future? I want to study and grow up and teach my children as well. I want to be a teacher," said Zainab, 11, from al-Hasakah province.
"What if all these years pass by and I don’t become anything? It’s not fair,” she added.
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