87 million children under 7 have known nothing but conflict – UNICEF


87 million children under 7 have known nothing but conflict – UNICEF

A Muhamasheen child is seen inside her house in the Muhamasheen area of Mathbah, in Sana'a, Yemen, November 2, 2015.

Yemen is suffering and its people are facing some of the worst moments in human history. This extreme hardship is affecting the most vulnerable of the Yemeni society. The absence of any coping mechanism for such vulnerable households is further pushing millions of Yemenis into extreme poverty.  This tragic turn is exacerbated by the suspension of the Social Welfare Fund (SWF) since March 2015, which has been the key "public social protection" buffer, covering almost 7.9 million Yemeni lives. Out of these poverty stricken millions, are an even further marginalized group known as the Muhamasheen. They survive on the fringes of society, living in slums and peripheral areas of urban, semi-urban, and rural Yemen. But the recent conflict has not been the sole cause of their misery. This community has been neglected for a fairly long time. With limited access to basic social services, their social indicators are far worse than that of any average citizen. And now the conflict has worsened their condition to a question of survival.

In December 2015, a recently concluded Muhamasheen Mapping Survey (MMS) has indicated that only 25 % of all Muhamasheen have durable housing, compared to 54 % of the general population; only 9% have access to piped water compared to the national figure of 29%; almost 22 % have to survive out in the cold, living in tents and makeshift hutments made of tin and cardboard; the majority 59% live in dilapidated and deserted houses. The statistics for the affected children is a lot worse: almost 52% of their children between ages 10 -14 age group, cannot read and write, compared to 17% at the national level and 40% of the poorest quintile; for the age group of over 15 years, 80% cannot read and write, compared to 40% of the same group at the national level, and 68% of poorest quintile. 

The Social Welfare Fund exclusion error margin

© UNICEF/UN013962/Shamsan – A young child inside her house in the Muhamasheen area of Mathbah, in Sana’a, Yemen. 2 November 2015.

New figures reveal the number of children exposed to conflict during peak brain-development period

NEW YORK/HONG KONG, 24 March 2016 – More than 86.7 million children under the age of 7 have spent their entire lives in conflict zones, putting their brain development at risk, UNICEF said today.

During the first 7 years of life a child’s brain has the potential to activate 1,000 brain cells every second. Each one of those cells, known as neurons, has the power to connect to another 10,000 neurons thousands of times per second. Brain connections serve as the building blocks of a child’s future, defining their health, emotional well-being and ability to learn.

Children living in conflict are often exposed to extreme trauma, putting them at risk of living in a state of toxic stress, a condition that inhibits brain cell connections — with significant life-long consequences to their cognitive, social and physical development.

“In addition to the immediate physical threats that children in crises face, they are also at risk of deep-rooted emotional scars,” UNICEF Chief of Early Child Development Pia Britto said.

UNICEF figures show that globally one in 11 children aged 6 or younger has spent the most critical period of brain development growing up in conflict.

“Conflict robs children of their safety, family and friends, play and routine. Yet these are all elements of childhood that give children the best possible chance of developing fully and learning effectively, enabling them to contribute to their economies and societies, and building strong and safe communities when they reach adulthood,” Britto said.

“That is why we need to invest more to provide children and caregivers with critical supplies and services including learning materials, psychosocial support, and safe, child-friendly spaces that can help restore a sense of childhood in the midst of conflict.”

A child is born with 253 million functioning neurons, but whether the brain reaches its full adult capacity of around one billion connectable neurons depends in large part on early childhood development. This includes breastfeeding and early nutrition, early stimulation by caregivers, early learning opportunities and a chance to grow and play in a safe and healthy environment.

As part of our response in humanitarian emergencies and protracted crises, UNICEF works to keep children in child-friendly environments, providing emergency kits with learning and play materials. The emergency kits have supported more than 800,000 children living in emergency contexts in the past year alone.