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Amidst the ongoing humanitarian crisis, adolescents in Gaza must not be overlooked

As the humanitarian situation in Gaza deteriorates, the statistic that half of its 2.3 million population are children and adolescents under the age of eighteen has gained widespread traction amongst those calling for a ceasefire. Whilst the current crisis has its roots in decades of conflict, the ongoing offensive by Israeli armed forces is the fifth that has been launched over the course of fifteen years of a crippling blockade. The current generation of Gazan adolescents have only ever known insecurity.

The legacy and ongoing impact of structural violence and displacement on the lives of Palestinian young people and adolescents has been extensively documented in previous work by GAGE. Witnessing violence and bloodshed and fears about family safety are drivers of Gazan adolescents’ poor mental health, with many already experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms after the 2014 conflict with Israel in which over two thousand Gazans were killed and over ten thousand were wounded. With a decimated economy and unemployment rates of around 45%, young people in Gaza also face a lack of livelihood opportunities, reinforcing a sense of alienation and frustration. Restrictive gender norms intersect with family safety concerns to exacerbate Gazan girls’ social isolation by limiting their opportunities for interactions with peers. These dynamics have also been found to be key drivers of child marriage in Gaza.

It is essential that the international humanitarian response takes accounts of the specific needs of adolescents in Gaza. Adolescent girls in Gaza, already facing cultural stigma around menstruation, now must manage menstrual health amid displacement and the destruction of water facilities and sanitation infrastructure. Relief efforts must address privacy concerns in order to support adolescent girls’ physical and emotional health and wellbeing. Many adolescents in Gaza have also experienced permanent disability as a result of the past outbreaks of violence; young people with hearing, visual and physical impairments are at heightened risk during bombardment because they may be unable to hear sirens, observe risks, or have limited mobility. Aid agencies must take intentional steps to deliver accessible aid in line with UN recommendations.

Despite the entrenched challenges they face, GAGE research also underlines the resilience, determination and agency of young people and adolescents living in Gaza. At present, meaningful political participation for young people remains unrealised in the current context. Not only do adolescents express high levels of distrust of politicians and public leaders, but strong age hierarchies constrain opportunities for voice and agency at household and community levels. As our most recent podcast episode highlights through a dialogue between Dr Bassam Abu Hamad of Al Quds University in Gaza and GAGE Associate Director for MENA, and a Palestinian refugee boy living in a refugee camp in Lebanon, restrictive policies in hosting countries on the recognition of stateless Palestinians also severely limits their civic and political participation. Yet given the impact of multigenerational conflict and occupation on the lives of adolescents and young people, their inclusion and meaningful participation within peace processes will be critical to delivering sustainable and actionable solutions.