A traumatized generation | Inquirer Opinion
At Large

A traumatized generation

Even as US President Donald Trump appears to have backtracked from the policy separating would-be migrant children from their parents at the US-Mexico border, one would have to wonder if the policy has not created a whole generation of children traumatized by their (temporary, it is hoped) forced detention.

Even if the reversal of the “zero tolerance” policy regarding migrants is implemented with dispatch, observers say it “won’t make a difference” for thousands of children confined in shelters. How does one—even, or especially, very young children—forget and move on from such trauma?


Since the policy was implemented in May, more than 2,300 children have been snatched from their parents’ arms at the border. An observer told Time magazine: “The thought that they are going to be putting such little kids in an institutional setting? I mean it is hard for me to even wrap my mind around it. Toddlers are being detained.”

Apparently, even Trump himself has begun feeling toddler-detention remorse. Trump said the order he signed was “very important,” adding that “it’s about keeping families together while at the same time being sure that we have very powerful, very strong borders… I didn’t like the sight or feeling of families being separated.”


Whether the children are ultimately reunited with their families, deported back to their countries or granted asylum in the United States, the Trump administration would have still inflicted irreparable harm on the youngest and most vulnerable citizens of the world.

Children are the most vulnerable during disasters and emergencies, experts agree, and yet in the eyes of first responders, relief workers, and planners and policymakers, they are nothing but recipients of aid, relief and, yes, care. Rarely are children consulted about their own needs or preferences, or asked to participate in programs meant for them.

“If we don’t involve (children) to be resilient and more proactive,” says World Vision Philippines director Rommel Fuerte, “all our disaster risk reduction initiatives could only go so far. Youth participation is pivotal in ensuring our efforts are adaptive to their context and capacity to mitigate disaster risks.”

World Vision, in partnership with Unicef, organized the National Consultation with Children and Youth on Disaster Risk Reduction, a project that resulted in a “Unified Statement” in which some 50 children from around the country called for the deliberate involvement of children in the disaster risk reduction (DRR) agenda. The statement called on key government agencies “to document children affected by disasters, account the economic impact of disasters on children, raise awareness on policies and campaigns promoting DRR, allocate a budget for child-focused DRR, engage children in local DRR councils, and in planning and mapping assessments and implementation.”

Lotta Sylwander, Unicef Philippines representative, noted that “children typically represent 50 to 60 percent of those affected by disasters, whether through loss of life or from diseases related to malnutrition and poor water and sanitation. Disasters also disrupt education and can cause psychological distress. Knowing how children are affected by disasters and getting their ideas on how to prevent and mitigate the adverse impacts of these is an important area of Unicef’s work.”

Thousands of youth, between 18 and 34 years old, from all parts of the world will be meeting here for “GenFest 2018,” a weeks-long gathering to share experiences and “exchange ideas on how the economy, the arts, the environment, social realities and diverse cultures can be tools to build unity.”

The main organizer of “GenFest 2018” is the Focolare Movement, an ecumenical lay movement which has been in the country for more than 50 years.

Unfolding at the World Trade Center from July 6-8 (there will also be pre- and post-GenFest activities), the GenFest will feature lively exchanges and sharing, workshops, cultural presentations and “immersion activities” that will allow the young people to meet ordinary Filipinos. Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle will preside over the concluding Mass on July 8.

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TAGS: family separation, US immigration policy, US President Donald Trump
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