09/20/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 09/19/2019 19:20
UNICEF calls for increased support for parents forced to raise their babies and young children in conflict-affected areas.
20 September 2019 - More than 29 million babies were born into conflict-affected areas in 2018, UNICEF said today.
Armed violence across countries including Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen meant that, throughout last year, more than 1 in 5 babies globally spent their earliest moments in communities affected by the chaos of conflict, often in deeply unsafe, and highly stressful environments.
'Every parent should be able to cherish their baby's first moments, but for the millions of families living through conflict, the reality is far bleaker,' said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. 'In countries around the world, violent conflict has severely limited access to essential services for parents and their babies. Millions of families lack access to nutritious food, safe water, sanitation, or a secure and healthy environment to grow and bond. Along with the immediate, obvious dangers, the long-term impacts of such a start in life are potentially catastrophic.'
When young children experience prolonged or repeated adverse and traumatic events, the brain's stress management system is activated without relief causing 'toxic stress'. Over time, stress chemicals break down existing neural connections and inhibit new ones from forming, leading to lasting consequences for children's learning, behaviour, and physical and mental health.
Examples of the impact of conflict on babies and young children - given by UNICEF staff working in conflict zones - include:
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the landmark Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which, among other things, governments pledged to to protect and care for children affected by conflict. Yet today, more countries are embroiled in internal or international conflict than at any other time in the past three decades, threatening the safety and wellbeing of millions of children. Hospitals, health centres and child friendly spaces - all of which provide critical services to parents and babies - have come under attack in conflicts around the world in recent years.
Providing safe spaces for families and their young children living through conflict - where children can use play and early learning as outlets for some of the trauma they have experienced; and providing psychosocial support to children - and their families - are critical parts of UNICEF's humanitarian response.
When caregivers are given the support they need to cope with and process trauma, they have the best possible chance of providing their young children with the nurturing care needed for healthy brain development - acting as a 'buffer' from the chaos around them.
'Parents who interact with their babies can help shield them from the negative neurological effects of conflict. Yet, in times of conflict, parents are frequently overwhelmed,' said Fore. 'Ultimately what these families need is peace, but until then they desperately need more support to help them and their children cope with the devastation they face - 29 million new lives and futures depend on it.'
Notes to Editors
Methodology: Estimate is based on projections using UN-DESA, 2019, '2019 Revision of World Population Prospects' accessed at https://population.un.org/wpp/, filtered for conflict-affected areas based on population density projections published by the Center for International Earth Science Information Network - CIESIN - Columbia University. 2018. Gridded Population of the World, Version 4 (GPWv4): Population Count, Revision 11. Palisades, NY: NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC). https://doi.org/10.7927/H4JW8BX5, and data on 'organized violence' incidents (including state-based armed conflict, non-state conflict, and one-sided violence) from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) Georeferenced Event Dataset (GED) https://ucdp.uu.se/downloads/#d3; and for countries where no UCDP-GED data existed, drawing on data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED); acleddata.com, screened for 'political violence' events with fatalities, all using the definition of conflict zones/areas impacted by conflict consistent with the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) definition as 'areas within 50km from where one or more conflict incidents takes place in a given year, within the borders of a country'. See definitions in Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University: http://pcr.uu.se/research/ucdp/definitions/ (all websites as accessed 09-09-2019).
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Unicef UK Media Team, 0207 375 6030, [email protected]
Unicef is the world's leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
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