Long after conflicts and crises end, children in West Africa still struggle with psychological trauma, new report shows

    TORONTO, April 23 /CNW/ - Civil war, ethnic conflict, child trafficking
and the HIV/AIDS pandemic continue to inflict immense damage on the
psychological health of children in West Africa, says a new report released
today by Plan Canada.
    Silent Suffering, based on in-depth interviews with 1,000 children in
high-risk communities in five countries, concludes that the world must fully
recognize and respond to the psycho-social and emotional needs of children
struggling to cope with tragic events and circumstances.
    Researchers randomly interviewed children in communities in Sierra Leone,
Liberia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Togo. The experienced team, including
psychologists, admitted they were shocked by "the level of despair" and the
distressing stories they uncovered.
    "I have bad, bad dreams about the killing of my parents. How can life
continue if in your head awful things go on and on? Every time I wake up it is
as if my parents have just been killed another time and me watching, not able
to move" - a 15-year-old boy in Sierra Leone.
    Plan is calling for increased child protection measures, expanded
psycho-social support programming and a greater commitment from both national
and international governments to answer the critical needs of these high-risk
    "This report, which contains both shocking first-hand accounts and survey
data, makes for disturbing reading," says Rosemary McCarney, CEO of Plan
Canada. "But the message is clear: Once a crisis ends, the work to help
children heal is just beginning."
    Plan has set up mobile units made up of trauma counsellors and
psychologists to provide counselling and treatment to those children judged
most at risk and in need of protection, including former boy and girl child
soldiers, orphaned children and trafficked children.

    Survey results include:

      -  Of 1,000 children interviewed for the survey, 46 per cent of girls
         and 42 per cent of boys witnessed a family member being killed or
         threatened with death.

      -  Three-quarters of children surveyed in Sierra Leone expressed
         suicidal thoughts while 30 per cent have attempted suicide.

      -  Nearly all child refugees fleeing ethnic-based conflict in the Ivory
         Coast say they have been physically abused.

    About Plan Canada:

    Plan Canada is part of Plan, a global movement for change, mobilizing
millions of people worldwide to support social justice for children in the
developing world. It is one of the world's oldest and largest international
development organizations, working in more than 65 countries worldwide on
critical issues affecting millions of children.

    Editor's Note - available for comment and interviews:

      -  Sangita Patel, senior programs manager, works in West Africa,
         specializing in children in post-conflict situations and post-
         conflict education. She is currently in Toronto.

      -  Christine Hodges, senior programs manager, specializes in children
         in conflict zones. She can be interviewed in English or French. She
         is currently in Mali.

      -  An executive summary (in English and French) of the study and the
         full version of the report, 'Silent Suffering - the Psychological
         Impact of War, HIV, and other High Risk Situations on Girls and Boys
         in West and Central Africa', can be downloaded from:


For further information:

For further information: For media information, footage & stills please
contact: Richard Chassie, Idea Workshop, (416) 920-1220; Steven Theobald, Plan
Canada, (416) 568-6525

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