Children born after 2009 in Boko Haram-ravaged states might never be able to learn optimally, as their brain development is at risk since they have lived all their life in conflict.
The Boko Haram insurgency started in 2009, meaning several under-seven children have lived their most fruitful developmental years in the conflict – a toxic state that will inhibit their brain cell connections.
“During the first seven years of life, a child’s brain has the potential to activate 1,000 brain cells every second,” the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) said in a release.
“Each one of those cells, known as neurons, has the power to connect to another 10,000 neurons thousands of times per second. Brain connections serve as the building blocks of a child’s future, defining their health, emotional well-being and ability to learn.”
It said the conflict would have significant long-term consequences to the children’s learning and social abilities, in addition to the effects of lack of good nutrition.
“In addition to the immediate physical threats that children in crises face, they are also at risk of deep-rooted emotional scars,” Pia Britto, UNICEF’s chief of early child development, said.
The organisation said about 87 million children, or one in 11 children around the world, have spent the most critical period of brain development growing up in conflict.
“Conflict robs children of their safety, family and friends, play and routine. Yet these are all elements of childhood that give children the best possible chance of developing fully and learning effectively, enabling them to contribute to their economies and societies, and building strong and safe communities when they reach adulthood,” Britto added.
“That is why we need to invest more to provide children and caregivers with critical supplies and services, including learning materials, psycho-social support, and safe, child-friendly spaces that can help restore a sense of childhood in the midst of conflict.”
UNICEF said a “child is born with 253 million functioning neurons”. However, early childhood development, including breastfeeding, early nutrition, stimulation by caregivers and early learning opportunities and a safe and healthy environment, will determine if the brain reaches full adult capacity of one billion connectable neurons.