The blockade of goods into the Gaza Strip, which enters its fourth year in June, has severely affected Palestinian children and families. Some 60 per cent of Gaza’s households are food-insecure, and power outages here can last up to 12 hours a day.
Vandalism and violence
Ms. Kaag’s visit came just days after a children’s summer camp run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) was vandalized by a group of armed attackers.
Recreational camps organized by UNRWA and UNICEF offer children an opportunity for relief from the hardships of living under the blockade. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the vandalism as “an attempt to intimidate and harm the most defenseless in Gaza.”
In the wake of the attack, Ms. Kaag cited the existence of “parties here who consider these kinds of summer camps to be running ... counter-religious values.” A related concern, she said, is the “political manipulation” of children through political messaging, media programmes or other forms of communication encouraging violence. Such manipulation violates the fundamental human rights enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, she added.
UNICEF is working closely with Palestinian non-governmental organizations, youth centres and media outlets to combat violent messaging in Gaza.
This work is critical because about half of Gaza’s population is under the age of 18 – and because educational success here has plummeted in recent years due to poverty, persistent insecurity and the severe deprivation caused by the blockade. In addition, given overcrowding and rapid population growth, many more schools are needed.
And children are falling behind. According to a recent survey, only one in five students in Gaza passed their mathematics and Arabic-language standardized tests.
“Eighty percent failed,” said Ms. Kaag. “They are no longer at the levels they should be.”
New strategies for children
In the face of these challenges, alternative strategies must be considered to improve education – and daily life – in Gaza.
UNICEF is supporting one such strategy in the form of community centres where children and their families receive a complete package of educational, recreational and psycho-social support services. Ms. Kaag visited one of these facilities, the Jabalia Community Centre, a ‘one-stop shop’ for families working to rebuild their lives in the wake of years of violent conflict.
Nearly 16 months after the military operation in Gaza that ended in January 2009, some 20,000 people remain displaced, including many children living in the area around the Jabalia centre. During her visit, Ms. Kaag also toured sites destroyed in the military operation, including Barcelona Peace Park, where children once engaged in much-needed recreation and sport.