Paediatricians: “The trauma of war changes children’s lives”

Paediatricians: “The trauma of war changes children’s lives”

Children who are victims of all conflicts have to deal with traumatic experiences that are difficult to erase. They must be protected and protected. He explains it Leo Venturelliresponsible for health education of the Italian Society of Preventive and Social Paediatrics (Sipps) and guarantor of the rights of children and adolescents for the municipality of Bergamo.

“Traumas represented both by the explosion of the bombs and, and I am referring to Israeli children in the kibbutzim, by witnessing the killing and torture of their loved ones, relatives, of their parents. The discussion, however, applies to all the children involved in wars, without any distinction between Palestinian or Israeli children or between Ukrainian minors. At the moment what is causing the most sensation and which is being reported by the media are above all the continuous Israeli attacks on the Saza Strip, which are forcing the Palestinian population to move and live very dangerous situations that harm children, adolescents and families”, explains Venturelli.

Post traumatic disorder

It is important to try to protect children’s rights. “Many rights are not defended but violated by bombs and violence. And this, I want to remind you, does not only happen in the Gaza Strip or in Ukraine, but in numerous countries around the world. In all war situations – explains Venturelli – they suffer as or worse than adults. The child has post-traumatic stress disorder which can be acute or chronic. The first occurs when an event occurs, such as the destruction of a building or the arrival of terrorists in the house who kill of machine guns the people present. Unfortunately these children are also subject to the next event, what happens over time, which becomes a chronic disorder.”

The wounds

According to Venturelli “we must distinguish between psychological problems and disorders linked to the traumatic effect of the situation and very practical problems that, for example, many children in the Gaza Strip, refugees within a territory, are suffering. With their household goods, in fact, families leave, they carry their children on their shoulders, they have little water and little food, they experience situations of general hardship and with bombs continuing to fall on their heads. This situation leads to physical problems, with the children starting to have diseases, malnutrition, wounds caused by bomb splinters and bullets that can hit eyes, arms, legs and other parts of the body”.

The splinters can then create infection or disability in the child and if it is not possible to go to hospital the child risks having hearing and vision problems and problems related to wounds and traumas such as the results of bomb explosions or the collapse of buildings or houses , not insignificant corollaries in a war context.


Then there is the risk of infections and contagious diseases. “In situations of war, cholera can make its appearance again – recalls the pediatrician – vaccinations are suspended and there is the possibility that polio will also return. Also because hospitals are often not functioning, they cannot count on normal healthcare activities due to a lack of electricity and are forced to make do: it is a truly very serious and delicate context.”

Post traumatic stress disorder

Then there is the post traumatic stress disorder that children suffer and which over time produces problems and serious psycho-physical consequences. “There are quite a few children who stop eating – explains the expert – or rather they remember the moment in which the bomb exploded and that moment becomes a nocturnal nightmare which is reworked with difficulty and which manifests itself with numerous awakenings in the heart of the night, psychiatric or psychological problems. If a child was at the table when a bomb exploded or when terrorists entered his house, food can be associated with that serious state in which he had this misfortune, linked precisely to the moment of the meal “.

Eating disorders, sleep disorders and night terrors are therefore often recurrent but depend on the age of the child concerned. “Even a three-month-old baby suffers stress due to a bomb explosion and these post-traumatic disorders remain over time, they do not end after one or two months. Sometimes they even remain for whole years.”

The help of psychologists

Helping these children are psychologists who, when possible, work to alleviate this extremely difficult condition. “I think of psychologists who provide assistance during a conflict, as assistance is provided in physical practice: if a child has suffered injuries to his body he must be treated and treated. In the same way these wounds of the soul, of the psyche must be treated. How much and how what will be done to treat them remains a big question mark, linked precisely to the general conditions of hardship that these populations are currently experiencing”, adds Venturelli.

It remains to be seen how they will be able to recover from these traumas. And what adults will they be tomorrow? “It is difficult to answer this question, because we do not know their life perspective. Undoubtedly these lacerations of the mind remain over time and can create future hardships. However, this is a disturbed generation”, explains the expert Sipps.

It should be remembered that children have a different attitude than older children. “Unlike adolescents, who in addition to fear may develop feelings of revenge, resentment, hatred and frustration, because they have lived this painful experience first-hand and who perceive these dramatic moments as trauma and abuse towards their well-being, children, especially the younger ones are free of resentment and are more safe from a psychological point of view if we consider the future time. In fact, if 10% of children have psychological disorders that may remain, there is a percentage of little ones who have an intrinsic ability to react, drawing on the innate instinct of survival and reaction even in the most terrible situations”.

Get back to normal quickly

However, this will only happen if, as Venturelli reminds us, all other conditions, especially environmental and physical ones, are restored again. “If an entire population no longer has water or food, it is clear that the difficulties are also of a physical nature, because children, even and especially the youngest, can suffer from malnutrition and poor growth. Furthermore, the damage should not be underestimated at a skeletal level due to injuries to the body and limbs from splinters and the collapse of buildings: for example, an untreated arm fracture will lead to a persistent malformation, an indelible sign of war”, explains Venturelli.

The strength of children

A physical and psychological damage that the little ones, however, seem to be able to cope with. “Beyond the critical moment, I am referring for example to the explosion of a bomb, the child, thanks to spontaneous play, but above all to the love of the people close to him, thanks to the resumption of physical contact which he extremely needs, as for example, a hug from his mother or father, or from close relatives, is able to react and have less future discomfort. If instead – says Venturelli – these little ones, from Palestinian to Ukrainian children, were isolated from their parents and were to become orphans to all intents and purposes, we would be faced with obvious problems that would leave persistent damage over time.”

The appeal

In these hours there is a succession of appeals to Israel and Palestine to reach a ceasefire soon. “The war is causing hundreds of innocent victims every day and among them many are defenseless girls and boys. As Sipps concludes the president, Giuseppe di Mauro – we hope for an end to the conflict soon, which is effectively destroying entire generations. We join the appeals launched in recent weeks to both parties involved in the hostilities and we hope that the end can soon be written alongside this true humanitarian catastrophe”.

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