At least 17,000 children in the Gaza Strip have been left alone or separated from their families almost four months after the start of the Israeli assault on the enclave, the United Nations children’s agency estimates.
Almost all of the gang’s children also need mental health support, UNICEF said Friday.
“Every (child) has a heartbreaking story of loss and grief,” said Jonathan Crickx, UNICEF communications chief for the occupied Palestinian territories.
“This figure (17,000) corresponds to 1 percent of the total displaced population, or 1.7 million people,” he told a press briefing via video link from Jerusalem, asserting that this figure was only an estimate because it is almost impossible to verify the information under current conditions. .
Everyone “is a child who must deal with a horrible new reality,” he added.
Crickx said finding the unaccompanied children proved “extremely difficult” because they were sometimes brought to the hospital injured or in shock, and “they just couldn’t say their names.”
He explained that during conflicts it was common for extended families to care for children who had lost their parents.
However, in Gaza, “because of the simple lack of food, water or shelter, extended families are themselves in distress and struggle to immediately care for another child, while they struggle to provide for their own children and families themselves,” Crickx said. .
Generally speaking, UNICEF refers to separated children as those who are without their parents, while unaccompanied children are those who are separated and also without significant others.
‘Almost all children’ need mental health support
Crickx also said that the mental health of children in Gaza was seriously affected by the offensive and that one million children in the Gaza Strip needed mental health support.
Children in Gaza “exhibit symptoms such as extremely high levels of persistent anxiety, loss of appetite, they cannot sleep, they have emotional or panic attacks every time they hear the bombings “, he explained.
Before the attack broke out, UNICEF estimated that more than 500,000 children in Gaza were in need of mental health care and psychosocial support.
Today, he believes that “almost all children need” such help. “That’s over a million kids,” Crickx said.
According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, Israeli attacks have killed more than 27,100 people in Gaza since the war began on October 7, including around 11,500 children.
More than 66,200 other people were injured due to lack of medical supplies and functioning health facilities. Thousands more are missing and lying under the rubble.
Here is a list of the names we know among the more than 11,500 Palestinian children killed during Israel’s ongoing war on Gaza ⤵️
– Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) February 2, 2024
With Israeli ground troops encircling most of northern, central and eastern Gaza, families have been forced to flee their homes repeatedly since the start of the war. Many are now crowded into the southern governorate of Rafah, which Israel says is its next target attack.
Many of those who fled their homes were shot and arrested. Those who manage to travel to the south often have no contact with their loved ones or caregivers in other parts of the enclave, especially during times of communication blackouts.
“The children have nothing to do with this conflict. Yet they suffer like no child should ever suffer,” Crickx said.
“No child should ever be exposed to the level of violence seen on October 7 – or the level of violence we have witnessed since then. »
He called for a ceasefire so that UNICEF can conduct a proper count of unaccompanied or separated children, trace their loved ones and provide mental health support.