Mental health as a human right left behind for children in fragile and humanitarian settings


Yasmine Sherif, Education Director Cannot Wait and Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, meet students at Souza Gare School in the Littoral region, Cameroon. The school houses displaced children who have fled the violence in the Northwest and Southwest regions. Credit: ECW/Daniel Beloumou
  • by Joyce Chimbi (Copenhagen)
  • Inter Press Service

“They have also seen militias and the military and may have been subjected to war crimes, violations of international law, sexual violence and torture. Going through such experiences is bound to leave you with some form of trauma,” said Yasmine Sherif, executive director of Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises.

She tells IPS that this is the reality for many of the 222 million children affected by the crisis. At the forefront of extreme, unrelenting violence and brutality, but furthest behind in accessing a most crucial human right, mental health care.

“It is imperative that for every child, every adolescent living in this complex humanitarian crisis, their mental health is ensured and supported that they receive psychosocial services that work with their resilience. Because indeed they have a resilience that has brought them this far and enabled them to survive,” she says.

Sherif stressed that recognizing and addressing the mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) needs of students and educators is fundamental for children and adolescents to fully learn. That if they are going to resume education, it is crucial that they receive psychosocial support.

“We need to ensure that education investments always include a strong component of mental health and psychosocial support. ECW has integrated mental health and psychosocial services into all of our investments. None of the 44 countries we have invested in does not invest in mental health and psychosocial services,” Sherif told IPS.

“Children and adolescents in crisis receive psychosocial support through the education we have invested in. It is therefore very important that funding for education through ECW increases dramatically so that we can provide even better context-specific mental health care and psychosocial support.”

Against the backdrop of the Nordic Conference on MHPSS in Fragile and Humanitarian Institutions, Sherif unpacked safe, inclusive and quality education as child-centered, holistic education that includes school nutrition, teachers, water and sanitation, and mental health and psychosocial support.

“ECW has reached 7 million children and adolescents in less than five years and MHPSS is at the heart of our work with our partners. To make an impact on MHPSS, we need funding, long-term investment and collaboration across organizations and disciplines,” noted Sherif at the conference’s opening panel.

More than 13,800 learning spaces now offer mental health and/or psychosocial support activities, and the number of teachers trained in mental health and psychosocial support topics doubled to 54,000 by 2021.

“It costs money to save the world. To provide a holistic education focused on MHPSS, a minimum of $150 per child is needed, and we are talking about 222 million crisis-affected children. We have the greatest dream and science on earth, but if we can’t afford that, it’s not going to happen,” emphasizes Sherif.

The inaugural conference “A Human Right Left Behind: A Nordic Conference on MHPSS in Fragile and Humanitarian Settings”, co-organized by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Danish Red Cross, took place on August 29-30, 2022 in Copenhagen.

The conference aimed to strengthen mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) as a priority in all humanitarian efforts and to address urgent needs to improve access to quality MHPSS.

The conference steering committee recognizes the need for meaningful, collaborative approaches and solidarity in MHPSS and includes the IFRC PS Center for Psychosocial Support, the Danish Red Cross, the International Children’s Development Program Norway, MHPSS Collaborative, Save the Children Denmark and War Child Sweden .

The conference marks the beginning of a process and movement of joint strategies and concerted action among MHPSS stakeholders at multiple levels.

Themes of the conference include locating and strengthening MHPSS systems, direct MHPSS interventions, child-youth and caregiver-oriented MHPSS, cross-sector integration/coordination mechanisms and innovative approaches.

The results of the conference include a Nordic Network on MHPSS Launch, 2022-2030 Joint Nordic Roadmap on MHPSS in humanitarian settings, and a Copenhagen statement on prioritizing MHPSS in humanitarian action.

ECW’s most recent estimates released in June 2022 show that 222 million school-age children and adolescents worldwide are in crisis, of which 78.2 million are out of school. An estimated 65.7 million of these out-of-school children, 84 percent, were living in protracted crises.

About two-thirds of them, or 65 percent, are in just ten countries, including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen.

The difficulties they face from ongoing conflict and forced displacement are now multiplied by climate-related disasters and the long-term effects of COVID-19.

In this context, Sherif is urging the global community to respond with an educational package aimed at healing the violent spirits of the affected children.

ECW’s groundbreaking Technical Guidance Note on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) in Education in Emergencies, and Protracted Crises (EiEPC) provides practical guidance to beneficiaries to ensure that children and adolescents receive a holistic education that protects and promotes student well-being .

ECW’s MHPSS in EiEPC Technical Guidance Note is intended for reference in partner guidelines and standards, such as UNICEF/WHO/UNHCR’s Minimum Service Package for MHPSS in Emergency Education.

An education that is blind to the special mental health needs of children and adolescents in a vulnerable and humanitarian environment, she says, simply will not deliver on the promise of safe, inclusive and quality education for the world’s most vulnerable children.

To deliver on the promise of holistic education, ECW’s High-Level Financing Conference will take place in Geneva in February 2023. Organized by Switzerland and Education Cannot Wait – and co-convened by Germany, Niger, Norway and South Sudan – through the 222 million Dreams campaign, the conference calls on government donors, the private sector, foundations and high net worth individuals to put their commitments into action by making substantial financial contributions to ECW.

Through these contributions, targeted children and adolescents in crisis will be reached with mental health and psychosocial services, including counseling, social group work, online counseling, teacher training and other resources to provide mental health support.

“We really call on all governments, the private sector and individuals to make commitments at the upcoming conference to enable us to expand support for mental health and education in general,” concludes Sherif.

Report of the IPS UN Office

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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