87 million children worldwide live in conflict zones
Millions of children worldwide live in areas of crisis and war, where they are exposed to everyday conflicts, violence and other traumatic experiences. "Worldwide, 87 million children under the age of 7 know nothing but conflict," according to the latest message from the United Nations Children's Fund - UNICEF. This has profound consequences for the development of children.
Child development is largely shaped by the environment in which children grow up. Worldwide, more than 86.7 million children aged 7 years have spent their entire lives in conflict zones, which also threatens the development of their brain functions, reports UNICEF. There are significant lifelong consequences for cognitive, social and physical development, according to the current report by the United Nations Children's Fund.
Brain development at risk
According to UNICEF, children are born with around 253 million functioning neurons. But whether the brain reaches its full adult capacity of around a billion neurons depends to a large extent on early childhood development. This is significantly influenced by factors such as breastfeeding and nutrition, contact with caregivers, learning opportunities and the opportunity to grow up and play in a safe and healthy environment. During the first seven years of a child's brain has the potential to activate up to 1,000 brain cells every second, and each of these cells (known as neurons) can connect to another 10,000 neurons thousands of times per second, reports UNICEF. The connections created in the brain serve as building blocks for the future of a child and influence its health, emotional well-being and the ability to learn.
Stress inhibits the connection of the brain cells
Life in conflict zones is often associated with extremely traumatic experiences for children and the always present danger puts them in a constant state of stress. This "toxic stress inhibits the connections of the brain cells - with significant lifelong consequences for cognitive, social and physical development", emphasizes UNICEF. Life in conflict zones "deprives children of their security, family and friends," explains Pia Britto, UNICEF expert for early childhood development. Childish play and the development of an everyday routine are also not possible. "These are all elements that give children the best possible opportunities for healthy development and effective learning so that they can later contribute to society and support the building of strong and secure communities as they reach adulthood," continued Britto.
UNICEF figures show that globally, one in eleven children under the age of seven grow up in a conflict zone. "In addition to the immediate physical threats facing children in crisis areas, they are also at risk of deeply ingrained emotional scars," explains Pia Britto. It is therefore imperative to create safe, child-friendly spaces in the crisis areas in order to allow a feeling of childhood in the midst of the conflict zones. (fp)