Local authorities in the Gaza Strip have imposed a mandatory quarantine on all Gazans returning from abroad—one of several unprecedented preventive measures implemented to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Al Mezan has been reporting on the conditions of the quarantine centers since the middle of March and notes reports that children are exhibiting symptoms of psychological distress due to the quarantine conditions. Al Mezan calls for preventive and safety measures to be tailored to fit the particular needs and vulnerabilities of children and promote his or her dignity.
Preventive and control measures are necessary to reduce the disease burden and the risk of infection. However, “in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration,” as indicated in Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Accordingly, competent authorities must provide specialized care to children in the quarantine centers, including appropriate healthcare, information and child-friendly activities.
During isolation with their caregivers, children must have access to psychological support in order to mitigate feelings of distress or anxiety. The authorities should also design and circulate instructions and health pamphlets that can be understood by children. In addition, means of entertainment and cognitive stimulation, like storybooks, coloring books, crayons, etc. must be made available.
Israel’s repeated large-scale military attacks on Gaza and 13 years of closure and restrictions on the movement of goods have kept Gaza in a protracted humanitarian crisis. The poor living conditions are now being exacerbated by the safety measures as breadwinners are confined to their houses and have accordingly lost their means of subsistence. With families struggling under severe economic and psychosocial pressure, children are vulnerable to domestic violence and abuse, especially amid school closures and the absence of peer socializing.
Al Mezan urges the international community to formulate tangible steps to action the removal of the closure on Gaza, and calls on UNICEF to liaise with competent authorities to support Palestinian children by initiating projects to address their needs. The governmental institutions and NGOs managing the current crisis should provide mental health programs and educational/entertainment activities for children held in the quarantine centers.