Palestine is a Middle Eastern state that borders the Mediterranean Sea and primarily consists of the Gaza Strip and West Bank regions. Over five million people make up the population of both regions combined. Decades of conflict with Israel have left the land, especially Gaza, in a precarious state, with 80% of the population in Gaza needing some form of external aid to survive. Thus, Palestinian children face unique challenges and experiences.
Two-thirds of Palestinian families live above the poverty line, leaving almost one-third below the line, defined as having a monthly income of less than $640.
Children in Palestine, who make up about half of the population, are the most affected by these conditions. In both regions, more than one million children are in need of humanitarian assistance. Here are seven facts about the lives of Palestinian children.
7 Facts about Children in Palestine
- Infant mortality in Palestine is among the lowest in the Middle East. Infant mortality rates in the Middle Eastern region average to 18.3 deaths per 1,000 births, which is greater than Palestine’s alone. On average, there are 18 deaths per 1,000 births in Palestine between the West Bank and Gaza regions. As restrictions in movement confine Palestinians to their homes, the accessibility of adequate health care services may deprive children of their right to obtain necessary medical care.
- 70 percent of Palestinian children attend primary school. However, nearly 25 percent of boys and seven percent of girls drop out by age 15. These numbers are much larger for children with disabilities, who have a more difficult time accessing education. This is, in part, due to movement restrictions, as children and teachers need to cross at least one checkpoint to attend school. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education, over 8,000 children and 400 teachers are in need of protective presence to obtain safe access to schooling in the West Bank.
- More than 80 new school buildings and 1,000 new classrooms are needed in Gaza over the next five years. The lack of sufficient classrooms has reduced learning hours for Palestinian students to 4.5 hours a day and has forced two-thirds of schools to operate on multiple shifts per day to prevent overcrowding. A lack of resources, materials, and willing teachers makes it difficult for children to attend school.
- Since 2000, over 10,000 Palestinian children in the West Bank have been detained by Israeli military forces in the Israeli military detention system. Defense for Children International — Palestine (DCIP) took the testimonies of 739 children, between 12 and 17 years old. Based on these testimonies, the organization found that 73 percent faced physical violence following their arrest, 64 percent faced verbal abuse and intimidation tactics by Israeli interrogators, 74 percent were not informed of their rights and 96 percent were interrogated without a family member present.
- The joint American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and DCIP led the No Way to Treat a Child campaign that exposes the systematic ill-treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention facilities. The campaign challenges Israel’s extended military occupation of Palestine by creating a sizeable network of people demanding immediate safeguarding of Palestinian children. As such, the proposed Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act (H.R.2407) follows these protocols and calls for U.S. citizens and policy-makers to take measures against unlawful detention.
- Conflict-related violence significantly impacts the physical and mental health of Palestinian children. Violent discipline in Palestinian homes and schools is widespread, where 91.5 percent of children have experienced psychological aggression or physical violence. The Israeli occupation has increased stress-levels and dysfunctionality within Palestinian families. The most vulnerable population— children— experience violence from both their families and Israeli soldiers alike. They are traumatized, confronting “flashbacks, nightmares, agoraphobia,” according to a UNICEF study involving children in the Gaza Strip.
- Coping mechanisms are eroding. Palestinian children and families are resorting to unhealthy coping strategies, such as school dropout, early marriage and child labor. Socio-economic difficulties, poverty and violence from the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict have forced children to mature early in life, with one in 10 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 years old getting married. Checkpoints have contributed to significant dropout rates. Some children are even referred to as “One Shekel Kids”, moving into the labor sector to support their families.
Poverty and conflict greatly affect children in Palestine, leading to high dropout rates and negative mental and physical health impacts. More than one million children in Palestine are in need of humanitarian assistance. Despite these conditions and traumas, Palestinian children still present inspiring stories of hardiness and hope.
– Sarah Uddin