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Mindanao children under stress

Rohaimen  Kedto, 8, a student at the Sambulawan Elementary School, is one of scores of children traumitised by the ongoing seperatist conflict on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao
(David Swanson/IRIN)

An increasing number of children on conflict-stricken Mindanao Island are suffering from stress after more than five months of fighting between government forces and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).



The southern, mineral-rich island has witnessed an upsurge in fighting following the collapse of a peace accord in August.



"I'm afraid. I don't want to go to school," Rohaimen Kedto, 8, said from his desk at the Sambulawan Elementary School, about 60km north of Cotabato city in North Cotabato Province.



"He's particularly afraid if he sees a stranger," said Parida Campaniel, his first-grade teacher, who struggles to help him, despite the 110 other children in her classroom vying for her attention. "He must have seen something," she said.

























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Conflict continues



More than 163 people have been killed in the fighting and scores injured, the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), the chief government coordinating body for disaster and rehabilitation operations, reported, with some 2,000 homes damaged or destroyed.



Whole communities have been obliterated, say aid workers.



Of the more than 300,000 people receiving assistance, about 75,000 are in evacuation centres, many of them schools, with the rest staying with relatives and friends, the NDCC reported.



"Pupils, particularly when they see members of the armed forces, become nervous. Even the sound of an airplane leaves many of them running for cover," said Meriam Kagui, a government volunteer at the school.



"We try to calm them, but it's not always possible," she said.



Impact of stress



According to specialists, psychological distress manifests itself among children in two ways - they may become more passive, withdrawn and less interested in their surroundings, or overly active and even aggressive to the point of being disruptive or rebellious.



Without a psycho-social assessment, however, it is difficult to determine the child's mental health, experts say.












Boys smile to the camera on the conflict-affected island of Mindanao. The southern Philippine island has seen an upsurge in separatist violence since August 2008

David Swanson/IRIN
Boys smile to the camera on the conflict-affected island of Mindanao. The southern Philippine island has seen an upsurge in separatist violence since August 2008
http://www.irinnews.org/photo.aspx
Monday, December 1, 2008
Moves to end use of child soldiers, but problem persists
Boys smile to the camera on the conflict-affected island of Mindanao. The southern Philippine island has seen an upsurge in separatist violence since August 2008


Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
The long-term impact of conflict stress has yet to be realised on children

"All the factors that can put stress on a child like a lack of basic services, detachment from a nurturing and caring environment, [the] disruption of routines like schooling, are present," Leon Dominador Fajardo, a child protection specialist with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), told IRIN in Manila.



Unless the fighting stops and families are allowed to return to their homes and routines safely, such stress will continue.



But in the interim, there are measures that can be taken to limit stress factors, said Faiardo, including a safe and secure environment for the children, free of threats of violence and harassment; a semblance of normalcy in activities such as school; ensuring children and their families have access to basic and emergency services; and group activities that will help children reestablish structure in their lives.



"This would include play, sports, art and recreation activities and other structured group activities and encouraging community involvement," Fajardo said.



During times of emergencies all children will exhibit changes in behaviour, emotions, thoughts and action, including nightmares, bedwetting, withdrawal, and tantrums - all of which would disappear if the child were in a safe and secure environment, he said.



If not, more serious mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression, could occur, he warned.













A map of the Philippines and surrounding countries highlighting Mindanao island.

Google Maps
A map of the Philippines and surrounding countries highlighting Mindanao island.
http://maps.google.com/
Monday, January 28, 2008
Des affrontements récents font des dizaines de milliers de déplacés
A map of the Philippines and surrounding countries highlighting Mindanao island.


Photo: Google Maps
A map of the Philippines and surrounding countries highlighting Mindanao island

UNICEF response




UNICEF has taken a number of steps in addressing the psycho-social wellbeing of children as part of its emergency response effort in Mindanao, including working with various groups to facilitate access by displaced families to safe and secure surroundings and basic services; to restore schooling or provide alternative learning opportunities and to establish child-friendly spaces where structured group activities and learning can take place.



The agency has also organised the Child Protection Network in Central Mindanao, a group of 10 local and international organisations involved in child protection activities, such as providing educational and play activities and creating spaces for children to feel safe and express themselves.



With its partners on the ground, UNICEF continues to provide child protection services, including the establishment of some 51 child-friendly spaces or alternative learning centres for about 6,000 children in conflict-affected communities in the provinces of North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, Maguindanao and Shariff Kabunsuan.



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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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