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80% of children in Gaza are depressed

96% of their caregivers also report feeling unhappy.

Jerusalem24– A report released by NGO Save The Children on the fifteenth anniversary of the blockade on Gaza reveals that 80% of children living in the Strip are depressed, while 96% of parents and caregivers report being unhappy.

On Tuesday, a number of NGOs released reports focusing on various impacts of the 15-year Israeli and Egyptian blockade on Gaza.

On 14 June 2007, Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, and Israel promptly imposed a naval, air, and land blockade which has remained in place since. Egypt also maintains restrictive policies at its unique border crossing with Gaza in Rafah to the south.

Palestinians and international analysts have pointed out that the economic blockade actually began two years earlier following Israel’s disengagement from Gaza and the evacuation of illegal Israeli settlements, long before Hamas came to power, and in contravention of an agreement Israel signed with the Palestinian Authority.

“The closure has devastated the economy in Gaza, contributed to fragmentation of the Palestinian people, and forms part of Israeli authorities’ crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against millions of Palestinians,” said a report by Human Rights Watch.

In 2020, the UN estimated that the Government of Israel’s then 13-year blockade had cost Gaza US$16.7 billion in economic losses and sent poverty and unemployment skyrocketing. Based on pre‑blockade economic trends, the UN estimates that in 2017 the poverty rate could have been just 15% (compared with 60% now) if the wars and blockade had not occurred.

85% of Gaza’s child population, over 800,000 children, was born and has grown up during the blockade.

When we asked children and young people about their ‘unwanted’ feelings, they spoke of fear, nervousness, anxiety, stress and anger, and listed family problems, violence, death, nightmares, poverty, war and the occupation, including the blockade, as the things they liked least in their lives.”

Children 14 years old and up have witnessed all four of Israel’s wars on Gaza (2008-2009, 2012, 2014, 2021), in addition to Israel’s violent repression of the Great March of Return, the 2018-2019 protests that took place along Gaza’s separation fence with Israel during which hundreds of protestors were shot and killed by Israeli snipers, including 55 in one day on 14 May 2018.

The Save The Children report finds that since 2018 the psychosocial wellbeing of children, young people, and their caregivers, “has declined dramatically to alarming levels.”

An excerpt from Save The Children’s report: “The impact of 15 years of blockade on the mental health of Gaza’s children.” [Source: Save The Children]
An excerpt from Save The Children’s report: “The impact of 15 years of blockade on the mental health of Gaza’s children.” [Source: Save The Children]
80% of children reported feeling depressed, while 96% of caregivers reported the same.

91% of children feel unsafe when away from their parents, and nearly one in two children reported feeling unsafe even when at home.

Statistics on suicide in the Gaza Strip are unavailable, but one suicide hotline reported a fivefold increase in reports of suicide attempts among children between 2019 and 2020-2021. Caregivers also reported an increase in harmful self-coping mechanisms, including substance abuse and self-harm.

“We have smaller ambitions because no matter what we dream of we know there are so many limitations.” – Gaza children focus group

99% of caregivers reported an increase in their children feeling fearful and anxious since the May 2021 Israeli attack on Gaza, and 63% of those caregivers felt they were not playing a useful part in their children’s lives. 98% of caregivers said they felt under constant strain.

“The psychosocial wellbeing of children and young people in Gaza, and their capacities to cope and recover, will continue to erode if nothing changes,” says the report.

The report does note with optimism, however, that children use positive coping strategies of their own accord, such as turning to family and friends for support (75%), using techniques like praying to calm themselves down (86%), and trying to look at the positive side of a problem (68%) or how to solve that problem (76%).

A drawing by 14-year-old Samar in Gaza. [Source: Save The Children]
Many children also reported experiencing positive emotions such as feeling happy (71%), confident (72%) and energetic (75%). Two-thirds of caregivers reported that their children showed confidence and self-assurance (66%). Most children also reported that they like themselves (74%), think they are doing well (63%) and that their friends find them funny (65%).

“A positive sense of self is a critical protective factor contributing to resilience in children and adults,” says the report.

However, the report concludes that the negative impacts of the 15-year blockade will not be reversed as long as there is a continuation of “the most significant stressors in children’s lives – conflict, violence and extreme economic deprivation”.

Save The Children calls on Israel to immediately lift the blockade, and on the international community to push for a “just peace.”

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