More than 9% of children under seven have known nothing but conflict

Kosovo Refugees

More than 86.7 million children under the age of seven have spent their entire lives in conflict zones, putting their brain development at risk, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today.

During the first seven years of life a child’s brain has the potential to activate 1,000 brain cells every second, UNICEF highlighted. 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.

Children living in conflict are often exposed to extreme trauma, putting them at risk of living in a state of toxic stress, a condition that inhibits brain cell connections—with significant life-long consequences to their cognitive, social and physical development, the agency added.

UNICEF figures show that globally one in 11 children aged six or younger has spent the most critical period of brain development growing up in conflict.

According to UNICEF, a child is born with 253 million functioning neurons, but whether the brain reaches its full adult capacity of around one billion connectable neurons depends in large part on early childhood development. This includes breastfeeding and early nutrition, early stimulation by caregivers, early learning opportunities and a chance to grow and play in a safe and healthy environment.

Read the full press release from the United Nations News Centre here