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Silent Suffering: The Psychosocial Impact of War, HIV, and Other High-risk Situations on Girls and Boys in West and Central Africa

Authors:Jenny Morgan and Alice Behrendt

Publication Date:April 1, 2009



Summary


This 64-page report is the product of a 5-country study by Plan International and Family Health International (FHI) to examine some of West Africa's most vulnerable
children. Researchers interviewed more than 1,000 adolescents in
Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Togo with the aim of
assessing the mental health and psychological needs of the children,
some but not all of whom had experienced conflict, trafficking, or the
loss of a parent.


The study found that children - both those who had experienced conflict, trafficking, or loss and those who had not - experienced high levels of domestic, sexual, and community violence. The authors suggest
this may be due to a culture of violence left in the wake of conflict
during which both children and adults experienced high rates of trauma.
Although the authors point to many factors that help children cope with
violence, they advocate for a wide range of interventions to address
this issue, including greater community involvement, increased attention
from community radio stations, and the creation of safe spaces.


Children interviewed detailed traumatic events such as the loss of parents to HIV as in Cameroon, surviving instances of ethnic cleansing in Burkina Faso, growing up without parental support in post-war Sierra
Leone, involvement in Liberian fighting forces, and instances of
trafficking in Togo. However, both these children and peers who did not
experience these types of trauma experienced high levels of violence -
most often, abuse at the hands of caregivers who may also have survived
traumatic events. This abuse included physical, mental, and emotional
abuse. According to the report, children most likely to employ
successful coping strategies in the face of abuse had higher
self-esteem, felt more in control, and reported a sense of belonging and
a connection to community values. They were also more likely to have
solid relationships with caregivers and peers, participated in
traditional rituals, and reported that their basic needs were met in
terms of food, clothing, and shelter.


The report concludes with several communication-related recommendations. The authors argue that child protection programmes need to be better tailored to meet community needs and practices, and they
suggest that churches and traditional groups may be able to help
transmit these messages with the help of community radio stations. They
state that community radio stations need to be more involved in
transmitting messages to affected populations in the language they speak
and with content adapted to local realities. They also argue that
parents and caregivers need emotional support to cope with their own
traumas before they can undergo necessary training regarding children's
rights and developmental needs. Finally, the report suggests that
communities strive to create safe spaces for children that encourage
them to participate in games, group discussions, and role-playing games.
Staffed by social workers and volunteers, these centres may be able to
identify vulnerable children early.


The report also points out that children subjected to violence in their homes - or, in particular, circumstances like trafficking - are among the most marginalised and invisible groups in society, with
limited access to public services or the opportunity to influence public
decision-making. The use of a rights-based approach to development that
focuses, among other things, on working with the most marginalised
populations, needs to be strengthened in West and Central Africa. The
authors also state that more research is necessary to understand the
degree and types of mental health impairments sustained by children and
their caregivers in Africa and to explore further community strategies
to address the needs of vulnerable children. Knowledge also needs to be
built up on the psychosocial and medical needs of boys who have suffered
from sexual violence, an issue that many people consider taboo and are
hesitant to talk about. The authors conclude by recommending greater
strengthening of peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts at the
community level to enable victims and perpetrators to reach out to each
other and to learn to solve conflicts without violence. In addition,
sustainable peace and non-violent conflict resolution should become a
priority in the sponsorship work of local organisations.









Contact




Plan West Africa

#4023 Amitie II BP21121

Dakar


Senegal

Tel: +221 33 8697430









Source

Plan website on December 15 2009 and August 26 2010. Placed on the Communication Initiative's Soul Beat Africa site December 15 2009. 

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