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Islam and Politics ( 9 Feb 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Orphans in Kashmir: Marred by Conflict, Abandoned by Hope

By Salman Nizami

Feb 07, 2012

The worst victims of the decades long violence by extremists in Jammu & Kashmir are the orphans of the conflict. Scarred and traumatised, many of them have resorted to violence and other crimes. They need to be rehabilitated

The Kashmir conflict has wreaked havoc on the lives of millions of people. It has taken its toll throughout the State of Jammu & Kashmir, decimating its economy and much more. But few have suffered as much as the State’s orphans. Kashmir has remained in conflict for over two decades. These decades have paralysed economic growth and bred violence and hatred. Lakhs of children have lost their parents and become orphans. Their hard circumstances have turned some of them into criminals or even militants.

Today, the orphans of Jammu & Kashmir suffer the most. They are the most vulnerable section of society. They are victims of death caused by accident, demonstrations, torture and other kinds of violence. They can’t afford to visit a doctor or ask for justice, because nobody is ready to hear their helpless voices. The State Government too has paid no special attention to these children.

In 2010, the NGO, Save the Children, did a study on this issue. According to the survey, the situation is especially grim in high intensity conflict districts that have suffered insurgency for a long period, and in those areas that are located along the borders and nurtures militancy. The conflict has had a particularly traumatising effect on the orphans raised in these areas.

According to the study, orphans comprise 4.4 per cent of the State’s population. This number is close to the 4.5 per estimated by the National Family Health Survey-3 and translates into 2, 14,000 orphans in the State. Fulfilling the needs of these children living in family, community and institutional settings is a challenge for the State Government as well as for development practitioners.

The study estimates that 41 per cent of Jammu & Kashmir’s under-18 population has been orphaned, which is again close to the corresponding Government figure of 42.6 per cent. The socio-demographic pattern of the households surveyed reveals that at 26.3 years, the average Kashmiri household is quite young.

Most families in the State predominantly profess the Muslim faith (86 per cent) and belong to the general category in terms of caste/ tribe status (71 per cent). Forty per cent of the sample population is engaged in professional work while 23 per cent are students. The average monthly income ranges from Rs 1,800 in Anantnag to Rs 5,000 in Rajouri. Gainful employment is low in conflict-prone districts. Thirty seven per cent of children lost their parents due to the conflict while 55 per cent were orphaned due to the natural deaths of their parents and eight per cent due to other reasons. The proportion of children orphaned due to conflicts is higher in Anantnag (56 per cent), Baramullah (33 per cent) and Kupwara (25 per cent) districts.

It was observed that a large number of children drop out from higher secondary classes, though the numbers are not clear with respect to the primary and secondary segments. While 38 per cent orphans are in this age group, only two per cent of them receive higher secondary education. Moreover, the study found that only 20 per cent of the orphans were attending the same school as their counterparts in the same age group in the same household, implying that were being meted out a less than equal treatment. Around 10 per cent of all the orphans were found to be engaged as child labourers of which only three per cent were being paid for their work. The remaining seven per cent were unpaid labourers.

Also, seven per cent of all households said that taking care of orphans was an economic burden for them. Another four per cent faced other problems while caring for orphans such as threats from militants and others. The main reasons cited by children for dropping out of school were either poverty or their foster parents inability to afford their education. Other reasons included children being afraid of leaving their homes or their schools being too far away. Stress or trauma while attending school was cited as another reason cited for dropping out.

Among the orphans attending schools, a large number said that their main distractions in the classroom were that constant worries about their families, noise of explosions and the intimidating presence of troops. Some forty per cent of the students said that they sensed a lack of control over events which led to despair and scepticism about the future. Another thirty two per cent said that their anxiousness was triggered by sudden loud noises or seeing men in uniform. The list goes on.

Clearly, these children need special care and proper protection. It is only when they are afforded equal opportunities will they develop their self-worth and capabilities. This in turn will forever change their village, community and country at large.

Source:  The Pioneer, New Delhi