Doctors Without Borders: Children in Gaza as young as five say they want to die

Doctors Without Borders: Children in Gaza as young as five say they want to die
During an address to the UN Security Council, MSF chief Christopher Lockyear discussed the devastating impact of the conflict on Gaza’s most vulnerable.
4 min read
24 February, 2024
Palestinians living in Jabalia Refugee Camp stage a demonstration over food shortages caused by Israel's attacks [Getty]

The head of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) told the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that medical teams in the Gaza Strip have come up with a new acronym: WCNSF - wounded child, no surviving family. 

The term references the severity of the suffering for Gaza’s children, who have endured insurmountable losses amid the war in the besieged territory. 

The health ministry in Gaza said Friday that at least 29,514 people, including more than 12,000 children, have been killed in the Palestinian territory during the war since 7 October. 

In the past 24 hours alonemore than 100 people have died, and another 69,616 have been wounded in total, in the conflict that is almost entering its fifth month

"Children who do survive this war will not only bear the visible wounds of traumatic injuries, but the invisible ones too," MSF International Secretary General Christopher Lockyear told the 15-member council. 

"There is a repeated displacement, constant fear and witnessing family members literally dismembered before their eyes," he said. "These psychological injuries have led children as young as five to tell us that they would prefer to die." 

UNICEF, the UN agency for the protection of children, estimated that at least 17,000 children in the Gaza Strip are unaccompanied or have been separated from their immediate family since the start of the conflict. 

Children make up about half of the overall displaced population of 1.7 million people in Gaza.

Live Story

“Children are being killed at a devastating rate, whole families are being wiped out, and a growing number of people, including children, are being left with no surviving family members,” Randa Ghazy, MENA’s Save The Children regional media manager, told The New Arab

“Children are also being maimed and suffering physical injuries, with little option for medical care or treatment. Children have a special status in conflict, specific vulnerabilities, and distinct rights and obligations owed to them. They must be protected.” 

Ghazy added that the MSF report further emphasises how the war has had an “immense and unacceptable toll” on the enclave’s most vulnerable. 

She added that these challenges have led to an increased risk of exploitation, neglect and violence for children, contributing to a significantly higher risk of long-term mental health effects

UNICEF said about 500,000 children already needed mental health and psychosocial support in Gaza before hostilities began. 

The number is now estimated to have doubled to over a million children, which was described as “a war on children” that made the Gaza Strip regarded as the world’s most dangerous place to be a child. 

“We know from our 2022 research that children in Gaza were already facing a mental health crisis prior to this escalation after then-15 years of life-limiting blockade imposed on the Strip by the Government of Israel. So, events since 7 October are compounding existing mental harm,” Ghazy said. 

“Furthermore, orphaned children are more vulnerable to economic hardships, limited educational opportunities, and increased susceptibility to exploitation and negative coping mechanisms – like child labour or early marriage - especially in a context such as Gaza where there is no suitable and safe alternative care arrangement in place.” 

Ghazy warned that as a result of limited aid access, which means restricted use of fuel, lack of safety for aid workers and convoys, it has become “a huge hindrance to us identifying and supporting unaccompanied and separated children.”  

“Immediate interim care, which is in short supply at the moment, is crucial as extended families, already struggling for resources and physically and emotionally exhausted after four months of conflict, face challenges in taking in more children,” she said. 

“Communication blackouts impede response efforts, making it difficult for our staff to cope, particularly health personnel who are exhausted and struggling to register unaccompanied children.” 

Ghazy continued: “Without an immediate and definitive ceasefire and full unfettered access to children across the Gaza Strip, we cannot provide the scale of support and services they desperately need.  

“Children cannot continue to pay the price for broken politics.” 

AFP also contributed to this piece.