On Monday, SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties released a field study titled "A Tortured Childhood... The Hidden Wounds of War" on the impact of armed conflict on the mental health of Yemeni children during the period of March 2015 to December 2022.
SAM stated that the study aims to assess the magnitude of the problem, the nature of the damages, highlight their effects, and provide proposals and solutions that contribute to alleviating the long-term and significant harm that children may suffer as a result.
The study highlighted that the armed conflict in Yemen has resulted in immense destruction and displacement of the population, greatly impacting all aspects of life, especially children. These Yemeni children have faced significant challenges and experienced severe psychological effects. It is distressing since children are the most vulnerable to psychological distress and emotional disorders resulting from conflict, such as shelling, destruction, loud noises, witnessing killings, and bloodshed.
In its study, SAM considered armed conflict to be one of the most impactful crises affecting humanity, leaving catastrophic effects on both individuals and entire communities. It creates a state of material, moral, and psychological instability, resulting in severe damage to the impoverished class. Water and electricity shortages, diminished employment opportunities, and food insecurity contribute to nervous tension, psychological stress, and frustration. These factors are sufficient to cause physical and mental illnesses such as emotional disorders, anxiety, depression, agitation, panic, aggression, and others.
The study argued that all of these tragedies have instilled in children a sense of fear, anxiety, shock, and a loss of security. The affected children feel targeted and perceive their lives as constantly threatened, with the possibility of being killed at any moment. The ongoing armed conflict subjected Yemeni children to immense psychological pressure on a daily basis. The study emphasized the dire circumstances these children face in accessing essential mental healthcare and necessary support. This lack of access has resulted in negative effects on their mental health and overall development, leading to introversion, isolation, and withdrawal.
Furthermore, SAM stated that all parties involved in the conflict have committed numerous human rights violations, particularly against children. These violations have included the killing of a significant number of children and the injury of others due to aerial and artillery bombardment, as well as the extensive planting of landmines by the Houthi group in residential areas, public roads, main streets, homes, and crossing points frequented by children on a daily basis. Mines have also been swept by floods from conflict zones into populated areas, resulting in many explosions that have harmed returning children from displaced areas. These incidents have caused the death and disfigurement of children, as well as inflicted permanent disabilities upon many of them.
SAM further added that among the violations, there have been cases of child abduction in areas under the control of the Houthi group, as well as the infliction of psychological and physical torture upon them. Additionally, the recruitment of children and their utilization as combatants in the armed conflict has been reported.
SAM highlighted that the ongoing nine-year conflict has resulted in many indirect effects on children. The loss of thousands of children's caregivers has led to the deprivation of a normal childhood, and children have been burdened with responsibilities beyond their capacities. Many of them have become breadwinners for their families, engaging in arduous and hazardous labor or resorting to begging on the streets.
Among the indirect effects, schools have been targeted, occupied, and converted into military bases, resulting in severe damage to or destruction of schools due to airstrikes, shelling, and clashes. These attacks have caused the killing and injury of students and teachers, leaving profound psychological effects on both male and female students. Many schools have also become hazardous areas due to the presence of remnants of weapons and explosive devices, whether inside the schools or in the surrounding areas near frontlines and conflict zones.
In addition to the direct and indirect consequences of the armed conflict, there have been significant health risks and repercussions on the healthcare sector. Diseases have taken a toll on children, with millions suffering from severe malnutrition, stunted growth, cholera, and other illnesses.
The study conducted by SAM researchers relied on the descriptive methodology, with the survey being the data collection tool. The field research team affiliated with the organization collected the data from a study sample consisting of 50 children within the age range of 7-13 years who were selected from children affected by armed conflict. Additionally, data was collected from 35 cases of caregivers of these children.
The research population consisted of children who have been affected by the psychological impacts and disorders resulting from war and forced displacement, as well as their caregivers. This population is geographically located in the governorates of Taiz, Sana'a, and Marib. The study sample was distributed across these three governorates, taking into consideration the diversity in the characteristics and dimensions of the phenomenon. It includes areas that have been experiencing ongoing military conflicts at a high intensity for several years.
The study covered four main axes. The first axis included the general framework of the study, which addressed the problem statement and its dimensions. It encompassed the study's objectives, research questions, temporal and spatial boundaries, as well as the terminology used. Additionally, it outlined the study's methodology, including its tools and samples.
The second axis of the study focused on the legal framework, providing a general overview of the human rights and children's rights situation in Yemen during the armed conflict. It served as a background to help understand the study's details. It reviewed international humanitarian laws governing armed conflicts and the protection of children, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Fourth Geneva Convention relating to the Protection of Civilians in Times of Armed Conflict, among others. It also touched upon the UNICEF Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The third axis of the study addressed the theoretical framework of the study's variables. It provided an overview of the armed conflict in Yemen and its impact on the psychological health of the population. It explored the consequences of this conflict on children and the various psychological effects it has had on their mental and psychological well-being.
The fourth axis focused on the analysis and presentation of the study's results, highlighting the key findings and conclusions of the research.
The study concluded that the armed conflict in Yemen has led to a widespread deterioration in mental health. It has caused various psychological effects and disorders among children, affecting them to varying degrees. The impact on children's mental health has been significant and diverse as a result of the conflict.
The results of the field study conducted by the SAM research team indicated that the war has had profound effects on children, resulting from the traumatic experiences they have endured in their environment. These experiences disrupt their sense of safety and stability, making them more vulnerable to various risks. The study found that the impact on children's psychological and mental health leads to functional impairment, hindering their ability to perform well in school, fulfill household responsibilities, or engage in social relationships.
The results also highlighted the crucial role of the family in helping children cope with crises and challenges, as well as overcoming their effects. Answering children's questions, attempting to clarify their surroundings, and providing them with opportunities to express their inner thoughts and feelings were found to be important factors in helping children to release accumulated emotions. Additionally, the study emphasized the importance of accepting all children's behaviors as expressions of their inner experiences.
The study included recommendations at the governmental and ministerial levels, including increasing funding for psychological and social care programs for children affected by war, providing legal support for children who have been subjected to exploitation and war-related violence and enhancing legislation and laws to protect children's rights and ensure a safe and sustainable environment for their growth.
The recommendations also included calling on governments, non-governmental organizations, and United Nations entities to increase attention to mental health issues in Yemen. This includes addressing the needs of war victims and providing compensation to the extent possible to help them overcome their material crises. It also emphasized the importance of enacting laws that guarantee these rights. Additionally, there were recommendations at the family, community, healthcare, and educational institution levels.