CHILDREN AT WAR NOT PROTECTED WHEN MOST NEEDED By Magne Raundalen, Center for Crisis Psychology, Bergen For the Dag Hammarskjöld Program Child Soldier Conference at Voksenåsen 6 Nov 2009
20 YEARS WITH CRC • THERE ARE MANY REASONS TO CELEBRATE THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD • BUT WE HAVE TO FACE THAT IN CASES OF WAR AND ARMED CONFLICT THE CHILDREN HAVE BEEN TOTALLY UNPROTECTED
CHILDREN AND WAR HEADLINES • THE BETRAYAL • THE LOSS • THE TRAUMA
THE BETRAYAL • This concept is meant to cover the immeasurable cognitive impact among children after wars. The mental work they have to do when they try to piece together a framework to rebuild the trust in the adult world after the collapse. They often report that they felt being let down and betrayed by the adult world.
THE LOSS • The second aspect of tremendous emotional impact on children in times of war is the loss of lives. Since modern wars affect more and more civilians, and since even children are becoming the target of the parties in conflict, the loss of all categories of close relatives has increased. In the worst-hit areas in an armed conflict, you seldom find a child who is not affected by loss of a close persons. Almost everyone reports loss among close family members, in their extended family or network of relatives.
THE TRAUMA • The third issue to cover the mental sufferings of children in war and crisis, is the trauma. War affected children are often haunted by traumatic sense impressions that are stored as anxiety and tension in their memories. Images and sounds may constantly bother the child by returning to the mind as vivid, sudden and uncontrolled recollections. These recurring, intrusive memories seem to disturb the whole network of feelings and thus become very disruptive to other cognitive functions.
STUDENTS OF WAR • Children are scientists, they are constantly doing research, sometimes desperate, to be able to understand what is going on around them. They are studying war, peace and politics at a much earlier age level than we have imagined.
EXPLANATIONS • In the mind of the child the understanding of war may become an intolerable and untouchable site of horror and trauma, and it will form a negative network of anger and revenge against a demonized enemy. If we want it to become, and we should, a cognitive frame of explanation based on truthful and comprehensible information, we have to include political understanding. Even if children are correcting and updating their frames constantly throughout childhood, this is a process depending on adult input, adapted for age and developmental level.
PROTECTING THE BRAIN • My main issue here and now is that the whole area of research on early child development in concert with cognitive neuroscience have sent warning signals related to early adverse childhood experiences and later health problems. In my opinion they have made it inevitable that we the next decade has a constant focus on babies in war.
THE USE-DEPENDENT DEVELOPMENT OF THE BRAIN • BORN WITH MORE THAN ONE BILLION NERVE CELLS • ONLY 10-15% CONNECTED AT BIRTH • EACH CELL MAY HAVE 15000 CONNECTIONS • HAS TO BE FORMATTED BY EXPERIENCES ”There is nothing more biologocal than experiences” Bruce Perry, University of Texas
REPAIRING THE BRAIN • WE ALL HAVE AN AFRICAN BRAIN • WE MAY ALL GET A PTSD • POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER • WE MAY ALL BE HELPED • THE MAIN ROAD IS THE LANGUAGE • TALKING MEDICINE • NEW METHODS ARE IN THE MAKING • EVEN METHODS FOR REMOTE REPAIR • NEUROSEQUENTIAL MODEL OF THERAPEUTICS – NMT - (Bruce Perry, 2009)
IMPORTANT REFERENCES Bruce D. Perry: Examining Child maltreatment ThroughaNeurodevelopmental Lens: Clinical Applications of the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 14:240-255, 2009 Sprang R. et al.: Translating Neurodevelopment into Practice: How to go from fMRI to Home visit. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 14:325-346, 2009
BECOMING A CHILD SOLDIER • A SHORT REPORT BASED ON PERSONAL COMMUNICATION WITH CHILD COMBATANTS IN UGANDA, SUDAN, MOSAMBIQUE, SOMALIA, SIERRA LEONE, LIBERIA, ANGOLA, RWANDA, SRI LANKA
CHILD SOLDIER 2 • wanted revenge for specific events • enrolled by desperation • a gun is a meal ticket • was attractive as recruits/a needed person • children among the first to join (Liberia) • schools destroyed/closed/dangerous
CHILD SOLDIER 3 • coerced participation • round-up/forced/abducted • children preferred as combatants (Renamo) • more brutal than adult soldiers • more obedient/easier to command • street children more easy to recruit
CHILD SOLDIER 4 • manipulative as pressure • participation/joining was an anti-depressant • gave sense of identity/nationalism • schools were also recruiting/training centers • declining school system • militarized refugee camps • had witnessed extreme violence/traumatized • desire to take control over events
CHILD SOLDIER 5 • obtained long term subsistence/survival • the route: poverty-social injustice-recruiting • the better of only bad alternatives • being an orphan/Uganda • protected at the shooting side of the gun • siblings tell attractive stories about camp life • peer-group pressure to join • join for a cause; ideology and indoctrination
THE GREAT ACHIEVEMENT OF OUR TIME • ESTABLISHING THE GLOBAL EMPATHY • WHO DID IT? • THE JOURNALISTS • THE HAND HELD CAMERA • STAYING BEHIND • TELLING THE STORY