Saturday, November 21, 2009

Gaza Children suffers as the World marks Day for Prevention of Child Abuse

November 19th marks the World Day for Prevention of Child Abuse. November 20 marks Universal Children's Day. These back-to-back events should call us all to moral and political account. Children have rights to happiness, a healthy life and a decent future. Defending these rights demands more than lip service, more than ceremonial expressions of humanitarian concern. The task at hand is to mobilize global action to prevent ongoing, systemic violence being inflicted on the young.

We at the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme are daily witnesses to the catastrophic impact of such violence. With a noose around its neck, Gaza is being slowly strangled. For more than three years, Gaza Strip is living under strict siege. Domestic violence is increasing day by day. The damage done to children affects every aspect of their growth and development. Violence is transferred to children through the cycle of violence as frustrated and unemployed parents tend to displace their anger to their children.

Three years of near total blockade have pushed the entire population of the Strip to the brink of economic collapse. Today, unemployment figures have reached 50 percent, according to Oxfam, while 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the UN.

With jobs gone, fathers sit idle, robbed of the self-worth that comes from being a breadwinner and head of house. Children pay the price. To make ends meet, they go to work, often in unsafe conditions. And to find substitute models of paternal power with which to identify, they gravitate towards armed groups.

Food aid keeps starvation from the door, but the quality of the donated surplus can be substandard, and malnutrition and anemia are on the rise. More strain on a social fabric that has already begun to unravel.

The population growth rate for the Gaza Strip is explosive: 3.66 percent, compared with an international growth rate of 1.14 percent. The median age of Gaza's population is 16.2 years for males and 16.1 years for females. More than 56 percent of the population is below 18.

What life experiences will shape this emerging generation? Collective punishment imposed by Israel against 1.5 million people. International aid created a culture of dependency; Ecological and environmental degradation; Depleted and contaminated ground water; Raw sewage spilling into the sea because of an embargo on materials needed to build treatment plants; Rapidly declining public health indicators; School children doing their homework by candle light because of electricity cut offs; additionally, a ban on travel which keeps students from studying abroad, and medical patients from undergoing vital operations. A fishing fleet penned in and shot at by Israeli gunboats. Hundreds of children and youth held in Israeli jails. A massacre falsely portrayed as a war that last winter destroyed thousands of homes, intentionally targeted farms and factories, killed 313 children and wounded 1606 others. An international community that talks of peace and the rule of law while tolerates or colludes in Israel's consistently aggressive and illegal behavior.

Through direct service delivery, and through training other indigenous care providers, the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme strives to build up the resilience of children so that they can better withstand the pressures to which they are exposed. Our work remains critically important. But therapy is not enough to cope with the amount and intensity of suffering which confronts us. For the wounds of Gaza, justice represents the only effective, long-term treatment modality.

On this day, when the eye of the global public focuses on the rights of children, we invite and encourage our friends to join us in our struggle for justice. The siege must end; through every available network of political influence or professional affiliation.

by Marwan A. Diab
Public Relations Director
Gaza Community Mental Health Programme

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