Africa's children suffering from extreme mental trauma
Children in West and Central Africa are suffering extreme psychological trauma as a result of civil war, AIDS and child trafficking, reveals a new Plan report.
The unique study psychologically assessed more than 1,000 children and young people chosen at random in affected communities in Liberia, Togo, Sierra Leone, Cameroon and Burkina Faso.
The research also revealed that even young people not directly caught up in such terrible events were also badly affected because they were in the care of traumatized adults.
Murder witnessesMuch of the report makes for disturbing reading. For example, of former child soldiers interviewed in Liberia (most of whom were ‘recruited’ by force), 60% said they had witnessed another child being punished to death. And 87% said they had seen a family member threatened to be killed or killed. Of the same group, 84% had found themselves “surrounded by, lying underneath or stepping on” dead bodies.
The report ‘Silent Suffering’ - carried out in conjunction with Family Health International - is a detailed investigation of mental trauma and reveals an entire generation of children vulnerable to the moods of parents and adult guardians who themselves are struggling to cope with often tragic and difficult circumstances.
Psychologists and researchers admitted they were taken aback by the distressing stories they uncovered.
Spill-over violenceUniquely, the study also interviewed control groups of children who were not orphans and had not been directly caught up in violent experiences.
The surprise for the researchers was that levels of trauma among these control groups were still high and they concluded they had been affected by a spill-over culture of violence brought about by years of social instability.
SuicidalLevels of post-traumatic stress syndrome, mental illness and suicidal tendencies uncovered were extremely high, said researchers. In Sierra Leone assessed suicide risk among children with no parental support was 70% in girls, 80% of boys — with 56 of one group of 183 interviewees (30%) already having attempted to kill themselves.
Plan provided follow-up psychological support over several months to the 280 participants in the study who were identified as being in acute life-threatening or risky situations.
Plan is now calling for a range of measures including establishing mobile emergency trauma units and more child-safe places.
Download the Silent Suffering report
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