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“Complete psychological destruction”:

Children in Gaza have suffered “relentless mental harm” during five months of war – Save the Children  

RAMALLAH, 12 MARCH 2024 – Five months of violence, displacement, starvation and disease on top of nearly 17 years of a blockade have caused relentless mental harm to children in Gaza, Save the Children said today. Parents and caregivers told the child rights organisation that children’s capacity to even imagine a future without war has virtually disappeared.

The emotional distress of dodging bombs and bullets, losing loved ones, being forced to flee through streets littered with debris and corpses, and waking up every morning not knowing if they will be able to eat has also left parents and caregivers increasingly unable to cope. The support, services and tools they need to care for their children are further and further out of reach.  

In findings published today, Dalia*, a mother in Gaza, said: “Our children have already lived through different wars. They already lacked resilience and now it’s very difficult to cope. The children are scared, angry and can’t stop crying. Even many adults do the same. This is too much for adults to cope with, let alone children.

The insights form an addendum to Save the Children research from 2022 charting the profound impacts of the Israeli Government’s then 15-years of blockade on the mental health of childreni.  In the report, mental health and child protection experts working with Save the Children in Gaza said that without urgent action, starting with an immediate, definitive ceasefire and safe, unfettered humanitarian access, the war will inflict further lifelong detrimental mental harm, with rapidly shrinking opportunities to recover.

Parents noted that children have given up on their hopes or ambitions for the future.

Samer*, a father, said: “One of my sons dreamt of becoming an engineer and the other a policeman. Now one wants to drive a donkey cart – because he sees this reality [...] [My other son’s] dream is selling biscuits in front of the house.”

Amal*, a mother of four children in Gaza aged between 7 and 14, said: “Some of my children can’t concentrate on basic tasks anymore. They forget things that I’ve told them immediately and can’t remember things that have just happened. I wouldn’t even say that their mental health has deteriorated – it’s been obliterated. Complete psychological destruction.”

The findings come as the Ministry of Health in Gaza reports that more than 30,717 people, including 12,550 children, have been killed since Israel’s military escalation in Gaza that started on 7 October* in retaliation to attacks on Israel killing 1200 people, including 33 children and taking more than 240 hostages, according to the Government of Israel.

Lack of food and clean water is also creating a catastrophic hunger crisis, with nearly every child in Gaza at risk of famine. At least 15 children have died of malnutrition and dehydration in northern Gaza, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health*. With barely any health facilities functioning and families cut off from medical services, it is likely that the real figure is far higher – and all this is causing anxiety and stress in children and families to skyrocket, Save the Children said. 

Even before 7 October, children in Gaza were living with exceptionally poor mental health due to cyclical escalations of violence, the impacts of the blockade including restrictions on freedom of movement and access to essential services, economic collapse, and separation from family and friends. 

Those surveyed for the new report said they had witnessed a dramatic deterioration in the mental health of children that is much worse than during previous escalations in violence, manifesting in fear, anxiety, disordered eating, bedwetting, hyper-vigilance and sleep problems as well as behavioural changes such as an alternation in attachment style with parents, regression and aggression. 

Waseem*, a father, said: “Children here have seen everything. They’ve seen the bombs, the deaths, the bodies – we can’t pretend to them any more. Now they understand and have seen everything. Now, my son can even tell what types of explosives are falling – he can hear the difference.”

While needs are soaring, the latest escalation in violence and the siege have caused a total collapse of mental health services in Gaza, with the six public community mental health centres and Gaza’s only inpatient psychiatric hospital no longer functioning, Save the Children said. 

Jason Lee, Save the Children’s Country Director for the occupied Palestinian territory, said: 

“It is unacceptable that any child should contend with the horrors that those in Gaza have lived through. While dodging bombs and bullets, fleeing through streets littered with debris and corpses, being forced to sleep in the open air and going without the basic food and clean water they need to survive, children in Gaza are going through a period of mass-scale shock and grief.

“Children in Gaza were already living with unimaginable distress following 16 years of blockade and successive escalations in violence. This war and the physical and mental scars it is leaving on children is further eroding their resilience.

“There is still hope that, with adequate support, this can be reversed. Throughout childhood, there are critical windows of opportunity to address the impact of conflict. But none of this is possible without an immediate, definitive ceasefire and safe, unfettered aid access so that humanitarians can provide the critical support needed.”

Save the Children is calling for an immediate, definitive ceasefire to save and protect the lives of children in Gaza and effective implementation of the provisional measures from the ICJ, and has called on the Government of Israel to allow the unfettered flow of aid and the resumption of entry of commercial goods into Gaza to prevent children from dying of starvation and disease.  

Save the Children is also calling for all donor governments and the rest of the international community to resume and scale up funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) on which the aid response in Gaza depends as quickly as possible.   

Save the Children has been providing essential services and support to Palestinian children impacted by the ongoing conflict since 1953. Save the Children’s team in the occupied Palestinian territory has been working around the clock, prepositioning vital supplies to support people in need, and working to find ways to get assistance into Gaza.    



  • In this paper Save the Children consulted with four partners in Gaza, who were providing Child Protection services before the war. Save the Children also spoke to four parents and caregivers in Gaza about the psychosocial wellbeing, behaviour, and coping mechanisms of their children since the escalation. 
  • For the same research, in the West Bank, 32 children (17 girls, 15 boys) were consulted about how hearing dehumanising language about Palestinians impacts their mental health. They said that regularly hearing dehumanising language from Israeli government officials about Palestinians is also impacting their mental health, and they reported feeling pain, anger, weakness and that “nobody wants us to exist on the planet.”
  • Key Informant Interviews were also carried out with Mental Health professionals based in the region, a Child Rights Organisation, and the Palestinian Commission of Detainees based in Ramallah.  
  • The insights follow from Save the Children’s reports from 2018 and 2022 looking into the impact of blockade on the mental health of children in Gaza.
  • Due to the current level of hostilities and insecurity, as well as the restrictions on providing meaningful follow-up support to children, Save the Children regrets that it is not practical to meaningfully and responsibly conduct research on a larger scale.
  • Children can be more vulnerable to certain mental health stressors such as traumatic experiences, conflict, or significant changes in their environment, due to their ongoing development and limited coping mechanisms. As such, any mental (and physical) harm inflicted on children must be interpreted in line with their distinctive needs and vulnerabilities. 

*as of 7 March 2024

For media enquiries please contact media@savethechildren.org.uk / +44(0)7831 650409