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Source: Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)
5 October 2004

ESCWA Press Releases
The Situation of Children in Palestine
Beirut, 5 October 2004  (United Nations Information Services)-- The situation of children in Palestine is among the vital issues that will come under discussion at the Arab-International Palestinian Rehabilitation and Development Forum scheduled for 11-14 October 2004 in Beirut.

In order to understand the children’s situation in Palestine, one must examine a number of important factors influencing a Palestinian child’s life, including: the socio-economic situation, the effects of the Intifada, child health indicators, impact of the Intifada on health, psychological health, and the educational situation in Palestine.

The Socio-economic Situation

The devastation of the Palestinian economy and the decrease in family incomes and even the loss of livelihood have left over half the Palestinian population living well below the poverty line. This decrease in household income and the rising “family economic problems” are strongly associated with the presence of acute and chronic malnutrition as well as anemia especially among children and women of reproductive age. Some of the factors that have devastated the Palestinian economy have also played a key role in affecting the availability of key high protein foods necessary to prevent anemia and malnutrition, the most important of which are: curfews, closures, military incursions, border closures, and checkpoints, which have made it difficult and sometimes even impossible for health care professionals to report to work and for ambulances and healthcare vehicles to reach their destinations and deliver humanitarian goods.

Increase of water-born illnesses and the inability of those suffering from them to seek and receive care due to mobility restrictions has also become a major concern, especially as the following water, sanitation and hygiene-related problems continue to increase: strong evidence of water-related disease, inaccessibility to the nearest public health center, lack of funds to pay for wastewater evacuation, a high percentage of families unable to afford paying water bills, destruction of water and sanitation infrastructure, dependence on water tankers for fresh water, limited supply of water, no access to water networks, and curtailed or completely cut off water supplies.

It is important to note that Israel’s separation wall, already under construction, will have further water and sanitation repercussions.

Children and the Intifada

Despite the formidable body of codified international law about the rights of the child, including the Convention of the Rights of the Child, children are still paying a disproportionately high price in the current Palestinian conflict. Children have been killed, injured, faced with permanent disabilities, or held in Israeli military and civil detentions with no legal representation of parental visits, inadequate food supplies, no access to bathroom and shower facilities and subjected to both physical and psychological abuse.

Child Health

The development and sustainability of health services for Palestinian children has been and remains severely handicapped despite efforts of resourceful and dedicated international and local healthcare agents and donors. Despite improvements in infant Mortality rates and Child Mortality rates (children under the age of 5), there has been an increase in Child Mortality rate (children between the ages of 5-9) with the primary cause of death reported to be Israeli violence. It was also declared that the Palestinian territories face a “distinct humanitarian emergency” due to the prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition, with four out of five children suffering from iron and zinc deficiencies that cause anemia and immune deficiencies. The weakened state of a child’s immune system, particularly when influenced by factors such as the lack of clean water, overcrowded living conditions, poverty, lack of sewage disposal and incomplete immunization can lead to a whole host of other infectious diseases including: Hepatitis A, chickenpox and parasitosis, Brucellosis, and water-born diseases such as scabies, skin infections, shigellosis, and diarrhea. And while improvements have been made and can be observed in the decreased cases of measles and tetanus, the declining cases of tuberculosis and hepatitis B, as well as improvements in bacterial and viral meningitis; the Palestinian health care industry, mandated by both international donors and policy makers, takes biological indicators and divorces them from their social and environmental determinants and invests in short-time “quick-fixes” instead of long-term social development in the health field.

Impact of the Intifada on Health:

The Intifada had and continues to have a dire effect on Palestinian health care. Mobility restrictions make it impossible for those willing to provide health care services to reach those in need of it. The destruction of health facilities and infrastructures, power lines and water filtration facilities, as well as a lack of needed medical vaccines and follow-up processes have all impeded health care development in Palestine.

In regards to child deaths and injuries, a number of trends observed in Israeli violence towards Palestinian children include: An increase in the number of child deaths as a direct result of the Israeli army and settler presence in the Palestinian territories; a higher percentage of the children killed are young children, under the age of 12; the use of ‘deadly force’ against children increased dramatically; and the majority of children killed were killed in situations where there was no confrontation occurring at the time of death.

Some of the most important problem areas in Child Health are as follows: (1) coordination among healthcare providers has not reached adequate levels; (2) there is a lack of clear national policy mandates that place individual health interventions as part of an overall strategic framework to strengthen the public health infrastructure; (4) national insurance schemes do not cover all children in the three to six age group and they do not cover all procedures for school-aged children; (5) children with special needs and disabled children are particularly left out of national insurance schemes; (6) there is a paucity of qualified personnel working in healthcare and a lack of child specialists; (7) there is a lack in the diversity of treatment available in the Palestinian territories as a whole; (8) ‘Quick-fix’ solutions are often implemented that do not give due consideration to the relevant social and environmental context or a rights-based approach to healthcare development; (9) child health information systems are inadequate and require redesigning and updating; (10) there are disparities in the number of healthcare facilities among geographic regions; (11) the sector suffers from weak follow-up and referral systems among all healthcare agents; (12) nutritional surveillance systems following up on trends in malnutrition and food security are weak; (13) efforts at caregiver education to combat chronic malnutrition are insufficient; and (14) there is a lack of food fortification strategies to combat anemia and macronutrient deficiencies.

Psychological Health

A child’s health is not limited to a child’s physical well being but also involves the mental and social dimensions. In Palestine, it has been observed that children with repeated exposure to Intifada-related violence, coupled with negativity in the family and family dysfunction – being more prominent in lower socio-economic families – are at high risk psychological stress requiring clinical intervention.

Educational Situation

The Intifada has had a dire effect on the infrastructure of the educational process in many different ways, including: damaging school and university buildings by rockets and tanks, killing Palestinian children and university students, closures of schools and universities, inability to reach schools and universities due to closures and mobility restrictions, as well as changing school buildings into Israeli military bases.
Copyright © ESCWA

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