'All night you are awake to the screams of your children': The impact of war on Gaza's youth

Wounded Palestinians from the al-Ahli Hospital airstrike.
A young girl at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza after the al-Ahli hospital explosion. Credit: AP

By Olivia Mustafa, ITV News Trainee

"Each night feels like a thousand. The constant sounds of bombing fill every moment. Words cannot describe what we are living now - we are facing the most brutal days anyone could ever imagine."

This candid account is from the daughter of a Save the Children staff member from Gaza. She is 16 years old.

Rather than spending the past week in the classroom or with her friends, her family have been forced to flee their home due to conflict between Hamas and Israel.

Ever since October 7, when Hamas launched a devastating terror attack on Israel, Gaza has been thrown into the international spotlight.

The tiny slice of land has been subject to an Israeli blockade since 2007.

Ahmed, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, works for Save the Children in Gaza. He has five children under the age of 18 and his home was destroyed in an air strike.

"In these moments, we feel that there is no difference between life and death, and that you better stay in one room with your children and wife, so that you all die together," he said.

"All night long you are awake to the sound of airstrikes and the screams of your children."

The unfolding conflict has had a significant impact on Gaza's youth. Local health authorities and media reported that out of more than 3,000 Palestinians killed in Gaza, 853 were children, as of October 18.

A Palestinian child at the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt Gaza Strip Credit: AP

According to UNICEF, as many as 300,000 children in Gaza have been displaced from their homes.

Executive director of the charity Catherine Russell said scenes on the ground following an explosion at the city's al-Ahli hospital were "devastating".

"I am horrified by the reported deaths and injuries of children," she said.

"This underscores the deadly impact this ongoing war is having on children and families."

Gaza is an unusual place for a number of reasons. It's considered one of the most densely populated places in the world, with over two million people packed into a strip of land just 40km long.

But a staggering number of the population are children. They make up almost half of the territory's residents.

Local health authorities reported in 2022 that 40.5% are under the age of 15, and Gaza's median age is 19.3 - compared to a world average of just over 30.

A deeper dive into the demographics could hint at why Gaza's population is so young. The city has one of the world's worst unemployment rates at 47% in 2022, according to the UN.

Palestinian children look at the building of the Zanon family, destroyed in Israeli airstrikes in Rafah. Credit: AP

Their figures show less than a fifth of women had a job in the first quarter of last year, with those in Gaza being the most vulnerable to unemployment.

Fertility rates in the city sat at an average of just over three children per woman in 2022, according to Gaza's Ministry of Health.

As a humanitarian crisis grows in the city, with aid convoys still yet to enter, Save the Children said it is young children in particular who "will soon start dying of dehydration".

According to the White House, 20 aid trucks are due to enter Gaza through the Rafah crossing, an entry point at the border with Egypt.

An anonymous account from a Save the Children staff member with young children currently in Gaza stressed the desperate need for aid.

"At night, children sit in the dark, in the black-out, wondering if they will live to see the morning," they said.

"We are rationing water bottles. Food is running out. The humanitarian needs on the ground, the impact on families like my own are beyond understanding.

"No one can fully grasp the extent of the suffering. I have no answers for my three young children about what is to come."

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