Don't doom Syrian children by labeling them 'lost generation', says psychologist

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 14, 2016 6:04 AM

By Magdalena Mis

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The children of Syria's civil war are not a "lost generation", and such labels - widely used by campaign groups - are irresponsible, said a psychologist who specializes in the trauma of war.

A third of Syrian children, 3.7 million, have been born since the conflict began five years ago and their childhood has been shaped by violence, according the U.N. children's agency UNICEF.

But even though a generation of Syrian children has been affected by war it doesn't mean all children would be traumatized and unable to live their lives to the fullest, said Renos Papadopoulos, director of Centre for Trauma, Asylum and Refugees at Britain's University of Essex.

"We should be careful not to use scary language condemning forever these people," Papadopoulos told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

"Being haunted by memories doesn't prevent people from living full lives. Blanket generalizations are very inappropriate, scientifically unfunded and irresponsible."

Children who grew up exposed to atrocities of World War Two did not end up repeating crimes they had seen as children but moved on to rebuild Europe, Papadopoulos said.

"A person who lost half of their family might be bitter for the rest of their life, while another may realize that the madness of the war should not continue and they would be devoting themselves to peace," he said.

Papadopoulos said that people react differently to traumatic events in their lives and there was no evidence that all people who experience trauma would be psychologically disturbed.

"We should condemn the events, not pathologize people saying that they are lost," he said. "(It's a) cruel rhetoric to say they are lost."

According to a UNICEF report published on Monday, more than 80 percent of Syria's children are affected by conflict either inside Syria or in neighboring countries where they live as refugees.

In 2015 UNICEF verified almost 1,500 "grave violations" against children, which included killing, maiming and recruiting child soldiers, sometimes as young as seven years old.

(Reporting by Magdalena Mis; Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)