Mental Health of Children: A Study of Human Rights Violations Through Terrorism

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Abstract

Throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the issue of terrorism has been becoming increasingly severe. Nowadays, due to the development of mass media and the Internet, terrorist and extremist acts are growing even quicker than before. Often terrorist acts are used as means of forcing political agenda, governmental changes, or various ideologies; terrorism “challenges the peace of mind of everyday people” (Martin, 2020, p. 3). It is essential to mention that terrorism uses an individual’s psychological distress as a principal method of conviction. These violent acts are used to threaten a person’s feeling of national security, thus distorting his or her values and confusing an individual (Vermetten, Frankova, & Carmi, 2020). Therefore, it can be concluded that there is a direct interlink between terrorist acts and various mental health disorders, including those among children, who are highly prone to mental trauma.

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Introduction

Since children are developing their individuality, and the sense of security can be considered as its part, the violent acts may seriously impact their future well-being. Unfortunately, the numbers of negative mental health conditions caused by severe distress after mentioned acts of violence grow proportionally with the increase of terrorist attacks (Kar, 2019). Due to the fact that a child’s brain is not fully mature, the adolescent’s inner capability to cope with stressful situations is lower than that of an adult person. Mental disorders such as PTSD or substance are the direct result of a traumatizing childhood experience, in that case, terrorism (Kar, 2019). Therefore, an adolescent who witnessed such an extreme situation is highly likely to encounter some severe problems in the future.

However, the terrorist acts themselves are not the only cause of various mental disorders; the fact that extremist groups are recruiting adolescents also results in high rates of psychological problems among children. The aggressive environment in which a child is put has various stressing factors that negatively influence an individual’s mental health on a daily basis (Koehler, 2020). The fact that these stressors occur regularly results in several psychological responses, such as substance abuse or growing psychological distress (Koehler, 2020). The adolescents’ involvement in an extremist organization puts them in a state of almost constant stress, thus negatively impacting their mental health.

Terrorist’s Violation of Children’s Human Rights

If to assess the situation from the aforementioned perspectives, the extremist organizations violate the basic human rights of both their child members and the adolescent who encountered the terrorist attacks. First, it is essential to understand how children are treated inside radical organizations. Koehler states in his article that children may experience “violence, criminal household dysfunction, emotional or sexual abuse, domestic violence or harsh parenting” (2020, p. 5). Thus, the mentioned stressing factors are most likely to be present among various radical groups and be a basis of human rights violations by terrorists (Koehler, 2020). If to speak about those on the outside whose rights were violated, it is essential to mention that besides the physical abuse, children are being devoid of their essential needs (Saltzman, Solomyak, Pat-Horenczyk, 2017). Many adolescents cannot gain sustainable access to clean water sources and maintain proper nutrition and sanitation (Saltzman, Solomyak, Pat-Horenczyk, 2017). In addition, adolescents encounter various household and displacement problems (Saltzman, Solomyak, Pat-Horenczyk, 2017). Finally, a child’s sense of security is being eroded by extremist acts. All factors mentioned prior are the precursors to various possible mental disorders that may appear in the long- or short-term perspectives.

Mental Disorders Connected with Extremism

The stressing factors created by the radical groups lead to the development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and several other medical conditions. The environment, which consists of war or violence, undoubtedly negatively affects even an adult person. Since a child’s mind, as was mentioned prior, has a lesser stress-coping ability, the list of various psychological problems consists of severe medical conditions. The most common disorder, which is developed among the victims of violent extremism, is PTSD (Grenon et al., 2019). PTSD usually develops on the basis of psychological distress, which in the discussed case, is caused by a shocking, violent event (Grenon et al., 2019). “The prevalence of PTSD among children and adolescents who have survived disasters varies greatly from 1% to 60%” (Grenon et al., 2019, p.2). However, except for PTSD, there is a list of possible reactions that may develop after the traumatizing experience. Sleep disorders, depression, substance abuse, anxiety, and behavioral disorders all may appear following a “traumatizing event” (Grenon et al., 2019, p.2). Thus, severe psychological distress caused by the act of terrorism may result in various clinical conditions that require proper treatment and approach.

Terrorism, which is becoming more and more widespread nowadays, is directly linked with psychological distress and disorders. The extremists’ aim to feelings of anxiety, unsafety, or fear, unfortunately, has both short- and long-term impacts on a person’s mental health. Children, who are less capable of coping with distressing and disturbing events, are more likely to develop several clinical conditions in the future. Moreover, the exposure to mental disorders is connected not only with the acts of terrorism themselves but also with children’s involvement in extremist organizations. Their rights are often being violated; combined with rampant substance abuse, this cruel treatment negatively affects a child’s mental health, being a constant stressor. In addition, the list of possible disorders related to acts of violence observed prior appears to be extensive. There is a need to understand that for successful recovery, not only the event itself but also a child’s medical history and that of his or her parents must be taken into account. Therefore, it can be concluded that all listed factors may negatively impact a child’s psyche and harm the child’s social health.

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Aims of the Study

The main aim of this study is to assess possible consequences that may result from a terrorist attack, as well as assess the impact of a child’s recruitment into an extremist structure. There is a need to consider all possible stressing factors in detail. Moreover, the long-lasting effects of mentioned consequences, such as the effects of PTSD or chronic depression, must be considered as well.

It is essential to list the secondary aims of this study; since various violations of children’s fundamental human rights by terrorists have been spotted, it is important to list all of them. Moreover, linking these violations to adverse mental outcomes among the influenced children is crucial. In addition, this research aims to analyze if mentioned disorders may be exacerbated or triggered in combination with several additional factors, such as the child’s medical history. The probability of trauma’s transition from parent to the child must be assessed as well. Thus, it will be possible to determine the most and the least vulnerable groups of children, as well as identify the factors that may exacerbate the given condition.

Hypothesis

As a result of the examination of the materials on the given topic, the following hypotheses were formulated:

  • The children’s victimization to extremism and violence affects their mental health and impacts their social development;
  • Terrorist acts violate children’s fundamental human rights;
  • The children recruited to terrorist organizations fall under the influence of various stressors; this results in several clinic conditions;
  • There are several outside factors that may exacerbate the mental disorder or negatively impact a child’s recovery after the traumatizing experience.

Objectives

In order to prove the stated hypotheses, there is a need to complete the following objectives:

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  • To study the impacts of terrorist activities on children’s psychological health;
  • To list possible outside factors which may negatively affect a child’s mental health;
  • To list possible stressors inside the terrorist organizations;
  • To study the violation of a child’s human rights under terrorism.

Literature Review

Major terrorist attacks, such as Charlie Hebdo shooting or the infamous September 11 attacks, were tragedies of an international scale. Many survived victims of prior attacks or even the observers of these (who also may be considered victims), sought mental help in order to recover after these attacks. Not surprisingly, children were the most traumatized category of victims. The purpose of this study is to prove the thesis that terrorism (both violent acts and the organizations themselves) has a direct link with mental traumas. The literature this study reviews analyzes how extremist acts may affect a child’s mental health and assess the possible consequences of these conditions. In addition, the aspect of child recruitment in terrorist structures is reviewed as well.

The Ways Terrorism Affects the Mental Health

Although it is known that acts of violent extremism may be linked with psychological distress, it is crucial to analyze the exact ways terrorism affects mental health. As per Durodie, B., and Wainwright, D., the authors claim that often those who were the spectators of the incident but were not directly involved in it developed more severe cases of mental disorders (2018). Matteo Vergani explains this phenomenon; he states the process of other individuals’ dehumanization (such as torture or killing) disturbs and shocks the person (2018). Terrorism may affect an individual indirectly through media and news. As Kim, D., and Kim A. claim, the residents of the target country may be shocked by the fact that the event happened in their country (2017). As a result, they may develop anxiety and be in a state of constant stress, especially children, who tend to be more impressionable (Kim, & Kim, 2017). According to Bhugra D. and Bhui K., the act of terrorism challenges the country’s status quo and thus disturbs its citizens (2020). It can be concluded that an extremist attack is aimed at provoking several distressing emotions among its victims.

The Impact of Terrorism on a Child’s Mental Health

Undoubtedly, such a shocking experience as terrorism is highly likely to form a basis for the development of mental disorders; this aspect requires a detailed analysis. According to Grenon et al., traumatized children may experience PTSD of various forms of severity (2019). Moreover, the school performances of the adolescents who observed a terrorist attack were lower than the average ones (Grenon et al., 2019). The distressed children often displayed signs of substance abuse. Some of the adolescents also displayed signs of long-term adverse effects of PTSD one year after the attack (Grenon et al., 2019). Aside from PTSD, as Askenazy et al. state, the youth are highly likely to develop agoraphobia, separation anxiety disorder, and major depression (2019). Talking about depression, Kar, N. the rates of depression following the traumatizing event among the youth are about 20 or 30% (2019). Adolescents who have reached adulthood without various psychological traumas are still more likely to develop these conditions in comparison to other adults (Kar, 2019). An adolescent will display “specific fears and dependent behavior, sensorimotor disorganization and disruption of biological rhythms” (Hamiel et al., 2017, p.38). Therefore, the acts of terrorism have a strong bond with a list of various mental disorders.

The experienced events may also become an obstacle to an adolescent’s social development. As Andrew Silke marks, the terrorist attacks may have a severe effect on an adolescent future mental and social development (2018). Several mental disorders, such as agoraphobia, which was mentioned prior, may result in a child’s inability to interact with his or her peers (Silke, 2018). As per Bitton and Laufer, the authors provide the reader with information that Israeli children, who were the observers of missile attacks, started to develop symptoms of anger, depression, and, what is most importantly, social anxiety (2018). Finally, according to Vorsina et al., children are likely to develop a negative attitude towards the given cultural group, members of which were the organizers of the violent extremist act they spectated (2019). As a result, a child’s biased attitude towards a given ethnic group or various personal development issues may appear.

Stressors inside Terrorist Groups: A Child Recruit Experience

Besides the terrorist attacks, children who were recruited by a given radical structure are being victimized as well. As mentioned in Handbook on Children Recruited and Exploited by Terrorist and Violent Extremist Groups, children recruited by extremist groups are victimized and abused on multiple levels (2017). These adolescents are being exposed to violence while being within the organization; sexual and physical abuse, enslavement, and cruel recruitment methods are often part of their daily life (Handbook on children recruited, 2017). According to Koehler, the environment surrounding an adolescent creates the so-called ‘toxic stress’; this stress, being present on a daily basis, leads a child to mental instability (2020). Adolescents are often killed or injured during ongoing combat. As Horgan et al. state, “over 11,000 children had been killed during the Syrian conflict” (Horgan et al., 2016, p.4). The process of child recruitment and following social interactions within the radical organization adversely affect his or her social and mental experience (Prevention of child recruitment, 2019). As a result, contact with this aggressive environment may have a negative long-term effect on an adolescent.

One of the most acute issues within terrorist groups is substance abuse. According to Vered and Yael, substance abuse tends to be high in war zones and specifically among male soldiers (2017). It is essential to understand that most individuals involved in terrorist activity use psychoactive substances for recreational purposes (Fuchs et al., 2020). The number of surrounding stressors and the constant risk of injuries and death motivate these individuals to seek self-medication means; unfortunately, children are not an exception (Fuchs et al., 2020). As Andrea Yetzer marks, adult terrorists often use highly addictive psychoactive substances as means of control over adolescent newcomers (2019). Finally, according to Bubolz and Simi, uncontrolled substance abuse leads to exacerbating or provoking various mental disorders (2019). The issue of substance abuse is an indicator of high-stress levels among the recruited children.

Violation of Human Rights

The violation of a child’s basic human rights has a significant influence on an adolescent’s psyche. The first and most important aspect is a human’s right to live, which is often being violated. For example, several terrorist bombings in Indonesia took many citizens’ lives; in addition, the fact that terrorists often use children or women-suicide as bombers makes this violation even more major (Gitaningrum, 2021). According to Nasution, the freedom of religious belief that is often being challenged by radical religious extremist groups is another basic human right (2018). Moreover, ‘freedom from fear is also an essential part of international human rights (Nasution, 2018). Irene Maithya shows on the example of Kenya’s radicalized youth that often, children who live under the terrorist-controlled territory or are part of the group itself are devoid of access to drinking water or food (2018). El-Masri, the author, claims that extremist organizations are often responsible for human trafficking (2017). In the example of ISIS, he states that many women and underage girls are being trafficked to be used as sexual slaves (El-Masri, 2017). Thus, the terrorists simply do not consider the fundamental rights of an individual.

Discrimination by gender, religious beliefs, and race is a problem that often involves children. According to Chika and Omonigho, Nigerian extremists deprived female children of a proper education because of their gender (2020). As Onuoha and Oyewole claim, the same terrorist group was responsible for the displacement of millions of Nigerian citizens, which undoubtedly is a traumatizing experience for an adolescent (2021). Finally, the forced displacement leads to a deterioration of both parents and child’s health due to the lack of access to proper nutrition and medical treatment (Hirani, 2019). These factors simply cannot provide an individual with proper conditions fitting for mental and social development.

Outside Exacerbating Factors

Due to the fact that each clinical condition must be treated appropriately and approached, it is crucial to consider which factors in terrorist-affected groups or countries may exacerbate the consequences of a traumatizing experience. As Garcia-Vera, Sanz, and Sanz-Garcia mentioned, the levels of social support provided to victims of a terrorist attack might either lower or exacerbate the levels of stress and, thus, the possible complications (2021). In addition, the level of ignorance of mental disorders in the culture itself may also be another stressing factor (Ikizer, Ozel, 2021). As Jore, S.H. claims, the concept of resilience serves as the factor of utmost importance during the recovery after a terrorist attack (2020). Therefore, a lack of a child’s resilience to stressful experiences may result in a more severe mental outcome (Jore, 2020). All factors mentioned prior highly contribute either to the deterioration or improvement of an adolescent’s mental health.

Research Methodology

The findings of this report are based on extensive desk research; 30 information sources containing various data, studies, and interviews were analyzed. The report also draws on an in-depth review of United Nation-provided handbooks, interviews conducted by many researchers, and cross-sectional studies done by other researchers. Moreover, a systematic review of the literature was conducted; primary research papers and UN handbooks were analyzed.

Discussion

The purpose of the presented study was to analyze the extent to which various extremist groups violate children’s fundamental human rights and assess the clinical conditions that may appear after experiencing a terrorist attack. The main approach that was used in the course of the study is qualitative, although the quantitative approach was implied as well. There are several key findings that were discovered during the research. First of all, it has been found that the possible risks of mental disorders’ appearance depend on various multilevel factors, such as lack of proper nutrition or pre-existing mental illnesses. Secondly, it has been detected that violations of human rights and traumatizing experiences appear both inside and outside the extremist group. Therefore, the link between terrorism and the adverse state of a child’s mental health definitely exists and requires further excessive research.

An adolescent’s psyche may experience both short- and long-term adverse effects due to severe stress. It is often caused by emotional trauma in early development that permanently disturbs the critical brain circuits for regulating stress and emotions (Askenazy et al., 2019). Due to a child’s lower levels of psychological resilience, it is highly likely that the given experience will have an irreversible impact on his or her mental health. These biological scars drive the changed behavioral and physiological responses to the environment, which ultimately raises the probability of psychopathology in adults.

The constant violation of human rights serves as a factor of distress for every spectator of a terrorist act. The fact that another person can be dehumanized to a disturbing extent, for example, sold into sexual slavery or killed, leaves a severe trace on a person’s psyche (Vergani, 2018). Not surprisingly, children are likely to develop severe mental disorders after encountering such violent situations. An adolescent’s further development, both social and cognitive, may be affected by this experience (Silke, 2018). Another essential aspect is that child recruits of various extremist structures are often being dehumanized and abused as well due to their inability to properly protect themselves and cope with outside stressors (Koehler, 2020). As a result, many children who face this kind of traumatizing experience are exposed to further mental and physical disorders, combined with possible substance abuse.

Limitations and Further Areas of the Study

The main limitation of the study was a lack of information obtained inside extremist groups. Although it was reviewed to some extent, the essential factors appear to be missing. For instance, the view of the given extremist structure on mental disorders. It is crucial to understand whether this issue is being addressed or left ignored. In addition, the longitudinal studies of the individuals exposed to terrorist attacks would draw a complete picture of the long-term effects of such disorders as PSTD as well as the experience itself. Therefore, possible future research may be focused on gaining information about extremist groups (if possible) and conducting a longitudinal study of a victim’s mental health state.

Conclusion

Thus, the study’s main findings have proven the need to create a systemized list of possible pre- and post-event factors that may be used to assess an individual’s current condition. The understanding that the victims of a terrorist group may be the recruits themselves is crucial to prevent an excessive amount of clinical conditions that may develop in an individual’s adulthood. In addition, various cultural and gender aspects must be considered since the events that led to the same clinical condition may differ highly. Future studies may and must focus on an insight look at the current situation to assess the situation from both sides (the spectator and the recruit) and imply means of counter-terrorism more effectively.

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PsychologyWriting. 2022. "Mental Health of Children: A Study of Human Rights Violations Through Terrorism." November 17, 2022. https://psychologywriting.com/mental-health-of-children-a-study-of-human-rights-violations-through-terrorism/.

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