NEW YORK, USA, 10 October 2006 – In the streets of Nablus in the West Bank, a group of Palestinian adolescents chat animatedly, on their way to a special workshop promoting non-violence.
The meeting, supported by UNICEF and the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights, is just one of several projects designed to support children affected by violence and caught in conflict.
The children in the West Bank and Gaza have experienced violence at many levels – not only because of ongoing hostilities but also due to cultural beliefs and practices that tolerate violence inflicted by parents and teachers. At today’s workshop, children spoke their minds about the issue of violence at school.
“We face violence but it’s hard sometimes, when you are attached to those who commit the violence,” said Rawan Al Masri, 12. “Then you ask yourself, why do they commit it?”
Children under stress
According to a February 2006 study by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 93 per cent of children reported being exposed to violence at home, and 45 per cent in school. In the same study, 51 percent of Palestinian mothers said that one of their children between 5 and 17 years of age had been exposed to violence during the last year.
Another survey – conducted by the Institut Universitaire des Etudes du Développement in Geneva – found that 60 per cent of Palestinian parents thought levels of stress among children living in their households had increased from 2005 to 2006.
Signs of stress included anxiety, low achievement in school and disinterest in social interaction.
To make matters worse for children already under stress, some of those involved in the Nablus workshop have not returned to classes this academic year because of temporary school closures in the West Bank and, to a lesser extent, in Gaza. Teachers have been on strike to protest non-payment of wages.
Throughout recent hostilities in the occupied Palestinian territory, Nablus has been one of the most isolated cities in the West Bank. As a result, its unemployment rate has risen dramatically, from 14.2 per cent in 1997 to an estimated 70 per cent today.
UNICEF and the European Commission have been running the violence-awareness projects in a total of 10 Palestinian districts, reaching out to more than 300 children and involving 60 facilitators, including youths and parents.
During the workshops, the children learn communication skills to help them launch child rights and protection campaigns in their own communities.
Through open debates conducted by children and involving community leaders, UNICEF’s non-violence project aims to challenge commonly held beliefs that violence against children is acceptable. The project also boosts parents’ and other caregivers’ awareness about child rights, strengthening their capacity to protect children against abuse, exploitation and violence.