Impacts of Terrorism, Political Conflict and War on Children

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22nd Mar 2019 Psychology Reference this

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Abstract

In the light of literatures, this paper will discuss the acute psychological responses of children during terrorism, the psychological impacts throughout the childhood period. The long term psychological effects of armed conflicts on the child’s life and personality and finally, exploring the important, resilient characteristics of children from the literature, to integrate them for the psychological well-being of victim children of Pakistan.

Introduction to Pakistan’s Socio-Political Situation and

The Rationales for Choosing the Topic

Pakistan, the country with a very significant geographical location, is also a front line in the war against terrorism. The country allied with the USA in the war against the Soviet Union and then against the Taliban. The war resulted in drastic socio-cultural damage, economic loss, and destruction of schools and educational organizations. The people faced multiple forced internal displacements and also loss of thousands of innocent Pakistani citizens, including children (Khan, 2011). The country faces political issues and conflicts every day and the situations are still in a treacherous and unrest political condition. As a result, the country has faced multiple military takeovers in the past. These are open and obvious losses, but there is an additional cost that the country’s children are paying every day, a psychological cost. Children’s exposure to the severe traumatic situations cause toxic psychological shock. Loss of family members in the war field has left the children in an insecure and hopeless position. The disabilities caused by the wars have lifelong social and psychological impacts.

The rationales behind choosing this topic as a scholarly paper of psychology are: Firstly, political conflicts and terrorism are the priority and current issues of Pakistan, making the paper very relevant in the Pakistani context. Secondly, no doubt every individual citizen is suffering, but children are the most vulnerable group for the drastic psychological distresses caused by these situations. Thirdly, the literature states that during childhood, the brain develops rapidly and events in this period have immense effects on the psychological development. Lastly, exploring the resilient characteristics, which can protect the child from harmful psychological consequences of brutal terrorism and rough political conflicts.

Acute Psychological Response of Children in Terrorism, armed Conflicts and War

Children exposed to terrorist activities including bombing, slaughtering of human beings in front of their innocent eyes, killing of their family members, friends, or relatives, and the non-human brutal acts of terrorists can be toxic to child psychology. About 88% of children’s psychological reaction to traumatic events such as terrorism are signs of Acute Stress Reaction (ASR), including severe anxiety, low mood, irritability, emotional ups and downs, emotional numbness, and poor sleep and concentration problems (Moscardino, Axia, Scrimin & Capello, 2007). As an Afghan citizen, I had harsh childhood experiences. During the Taliban regime, I have been exposed to severe terrorist activities. I have seen people being killed, bombed, executed in the streets, and my own house and neighbors have been hit by missiles, in the incident, I have almost lost my grandfather. I can deeply understand the psychological pain of children exposed to such a brutal non-human situation. In addition to Acute Stress Reaction (ASR) signs and symptoms, I do remember, I had severe separation anxiety, I had fears of losing my significant figures and an intense feeling of uncertainty about death and life deep inside my heart. Children manifest anxiety in a variety of ways (Saraiya, Garakani & Billick, 2013). Children may have difficulty in separating from parents, unrelated anxiety and they can develop somatic complaints (frequent headaches and stomach aches) due to anxiety. The literature further narrates that children develop a sense of hopelessness, loss of self-control and may develop difficulty in trusting adults. An 8-year old girl, M, said “My father died in the blast. I don’t want to live here any longer” (Aijaz & Ambreen, 2014) Children develop complaints of unexplained low appetite, sleep disorders and nightmares. An 11-year old boy, who was at home when the blast (Abbas Town, Karachi) occurred, was crying when he told us, “I have been feeling really anxious since the blast. I cannot sleep” (Aijaz & Ambreen, 2014).

Psychological Impacts of Terrorism, Political Conflicts and War throughout the Childhood Period

The psychological impacts of terrorism are not only limited to acute exposure to traumatic events but have effects throughout childhood. Regression manifests in children who witnessed or exposed to terrorism. Thumb sucking, bed wetting problems, lack of interest in play, increased fear of the dark and, greater difficulties in separating from parents have been noticed in children (Saraiya, Garakani & Billick, 2013). Developmental delays, a state when a child cannot achieve appropriate milestones of age, have been recorded in children (Ullah, 2010). Academic and educational performances of children exposed to terrorism are highly suffered (Waheed & Ahmad, 2012). I have noticed that, loss of parents, change in family structure and, low support from family result in poorer academic achievement. Development of learning difficulties and attention problems are other reasons for low academic performances, (Saraiya, Garakani & Billick, 2013). I remember, when we migrated from Afghanistan to Pakistan for the search of peace and security, we got admission in the school. I, my siblings, and other Afghan classmates, exposed to extreme traumatic events of terrorism, had learning difficulties at school. Once, I failed grade 4 and had to work very hard to catch up with the studies. Children who experienced or witnessed violence acts of militants, developed phobias (Khan, 2011). The phobia can be related to animals, monsters, or any symbols not related to terrorism. Irritability, aggression and, an unusual outburst of anger has reported about children exposed to militancy. A mother complained about her son, ‘‘His character has changed. He generally reacts more strongly now, with much aggression. He thinks that someone wants to hurt him, he feels very offended if you tell him what to do’’ (Moscardino, Axia, Scrimin & Capello, 2007).

Long Term Psychological Effects of Terrorism, Political Conflicts and War on Personality and Life of Children

A vast number of literatures support that, Childhood experiences have significant outcomes in the life and personality development. (Heckman et al., 2012; Black et al., 2007; Alderman et al., 2006; and Almond et al., 2005), as cited in (Kim & Lee, 2013). The developmental Psychology shows that early childhood experiences are crucial for the personality development in the long-run. The study of the behavioral genetics shows that differences in temperament measured in the first few years of life do not entirely depend on hereditary factors, but also the environments (Emde, Hewitt & Kagan, 2001). Terrorism and conflicts in the environment can be a serious issue for the child psychology. Children exposed to war, witnessed torture or killing of family members and those who lost significant figures in the act of terrorism, are at a higher risk of developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (Ahmada, 2010). PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can be developed after exposure to one or more traumatic events that threatened or caused great physical harm (Widiger & Costa, 2013; Brunet, Akerib, & Birmes, 2007). It is a severe and ongoing emotional reaction to extreme psychological trauma. Individual with PTSD can have the signs and symptoms for up to 20 years after the traumatic event (Boscarino, 1997) cited in (Ahmada, 2010). Antisocial personality and aggressive behavior development are other long term psychological consequences of child exposed to terrorism. According to Qouta, Punam”aki & El Sarraj, (2008) aggressive and anti-social behaviors are more likely to develop if children are directly exposed to terrorism, including physical violence, being wounded, beaten, detained, or may have lost loved ones in the event. In another study by Yule et al., (2000) showed that survivors have a higher risk of developing specific phobias in the long-run. Ahmada (2010) explains that racial discrimination and blaming wording of society, leads to social isolation and drug abuse. If the world blames and discriminates a Pakistani child as a terrorist, the child may be isolated and may adapt drug abuse as an ineffective coping mechanism.

Exploring Resilience in Children to Combat Adverse Psychological Effects of Terrorism, Political Conflicts and War

War and terrorism adversely disturb the psychology of children, still many children survive and grow healthy, competent, well-adjusted and caring adults. Although many children succumb to serious psychological and physical problem, a substantial number manage to survive and thrive, despite facing adversities (Levine & Ion, 2002). Many questions can be posed that, how these children were able to carry on healthy lives? Kanji & Cameron, (2010) answer the question in their research, “exploring the experiences of resilience in Muslim Afghan refugee children”. Each child has unique stories to tell and within their experiential stories are essences of resilience.

Drawing Strength from Family Support: In Kanji & Cameron’s (2010) research, the Afghan refugee children confidently expressed that their strength came from their family’s enormous support. Family togetherness, not only instills courage, but also gives support and protection. Researcher (Garmezy, 1991; Luther et al., 2000; Masten & Coastsworth, 1998) as cited in (Kanji & Cameron, 2010) has also identified the presence of caring adults either during or after major stresses as the most important protective factors for children. The extended family structure in Pakistan can enhance more caring and supportive environment for the child. Therefore, families should be advised, to be more helpful, kind and caring during or after the traumatic events. According to Luther, Sawyer, and Brown (2006) as cited in (Kanji & Cameron, 2010), their research review of over 50 years on childhood resilience showed that good positive parent-child relationships can generate “feelings of confidence, security, and self-efficacy” in children.

Community and Social Support: According to Garbarino and Kostelney (1996), as cited in (Kanji & Cameron, 2010), in addition to children having individual strength, “successful adoption and resilience lies in the balance of social supports from and for parents and other adults. It is very important to attract social, governmental and non-governmental organizations’ support for the victim children. National and International media channels can play an important role in drawing attention of these organizations. The organizations can work on maintaining and improving daily activities of children (e.g. Schooling, etc.). Researchers found that, when displaced children attend school, it gives them stability and increase their confidence, self-esteem, problem-solving abilities, and career opportunities (Garbarino & Kostelny, 1996; Hek, 2005; Machel, 2001) as cited in (Kanji & Cameron, 2010). The support system from social worker and NGOs can have a positive impact on child psychology.

Drawing Strength from the Divine Support: The participants in Kanji & Cameron’s research (2010), shared their experience of strength from the divine. They explained that they recited the name of Hazrat Ali (The First spiritual leader of Shia Ismaili) as a way of overcoming the fears. According to (Joseph, 1994; Ratrin Hestyani, 2006; Walsh, 2003) as cited in (Kanji & Cameron, 2010), practicing faith is also a way of promoting and sustaining resilience within a person in the face of adversity. Personally, when I experienced traumatic terrorist exposure during the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, I recited Naad-e-Ali (Special Shia prayer for overcoming trouble) 3 times. The divine practice gave me a strong sense of resilience. Therefore, promoting divine and religious practices in children can be useful in psychological well-being.

Conclusion

The major acute psychological responses of children, when exposed to terrorism are Acute Stress Reaction (ASR), severe anxiety, emotional numbness and sleep disorders. Development of hopelessness and the difficulty in separating from parents are the main acute concern. The impacts are not limited to the acute phase of trauma, but the events have an effect throughout the childhood. Regression and developmental delays are noticed in children. The academic and educational performances of children are suffering. Low grades, avoidance of school, poorer academic achievements and learning difficulties are the major concerns. The literatures give evidence of long-term impacts on personality development of children. Development of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was the most evident impact. The sign and symptoms of the disorder can be manifested for up to 20 years after the trauma. Anti-social and aggressive personality developments are vital long-term consequences. Furthermore, children develop specific phobias, social isolation, and involve in drug abuse, later in their lives. The literature explains that although terrorism and armed conflicts have adverse effects on children, still they can grow up as a healthy, competent and caring adult, by having certain resilient characteristics. The resilient characteristics are strengthened by support, love, kindness, and protective nature of family. At the last, the literatures and researchers showed that, during warlike situations, social support, religious and divine practices play an important role in children’s psychological well-being.

References

Ahmada, A. (2010). War and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Children: A Review.

Aijaz, A., & Ambreen, U. (2014). Case Studies: Female and Child Survivors of a Bomb-Blast in Pakistan.J Trauma Treat S,4, 2167–1222.

Emde, R., Hewitt, J., & Kagan, J. (2001).Infancy to early childhood(1st Ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kanji, Z., & Cameron, B. (2010). Exploring the experiences of resilience in Muslim Afghan refugee children.Journal Of Muslim Mental Health,5 (1), 22–40.

Khan, Z. (2011). Military Operations in FATA and PATA: Implications for Pakistan. Institute Of Strategic Studies, Islamabad (ISSI).

Kim, Y., & Lee, J. (2013). The long-run impact of traumatic experience on risk aversion.

Levine, S., & Ion, H. (2002).Against terrible odds(1st Ed.). Boulder, Colo.: Bull Pub. Co.

Moscardino, U., Axia, G., Scrimin, S., & Capello, F. (2007). Narratives from caregivers of children surviving the terrorist attack in Beslan: Issues of health, culture, and resilience.Social Science & Medicine, 64 (8), 1776–1787.

Qouta, S., Punam”aki, R., & El Sarraj, E. (2008). Child development and family mental health in war and military violence: The Palestinian experience. International Journal Of Behavioral Development,32(4), 310–321.

Saraiya, A., Garakani, A., & Billick, S. (2013). Mental health approaches to child victims of acts of terrorism. Psychiatric Quarterly,84 (1), 115–124.

Ullah, J. (2010). The Life of Children After the War on Terror. Pakistan Journal Of Criminology, 2 (1).

Waheed, A., & Ahmad, M. (2012). Socioeconomic Impacts of Terrorism on Affected Families in Lahore, Pakistan.Journal Of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma,21 (2), 202–222.

Widiger, T., & Costa, P. (2013).Personality disorders and the five-factor model of personality(1st Ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Yule, W., Bolton, D., Udwin, O., Boyle, S., O’Ryan, D., & Nurrish, J. (2000). The long-term psychological effects of a disaster experienced in adolescence: I: The incidence and course of PTSD.Journal Of Child Psychology And Psychiatry,41(4), 503–511.

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