Children of Kashmir Conflict

JAMMU, JAN 24: Tens of thousands of orphans are suffering from trauma and other stress related diseases including depression, sleeplessness and nausea due to the ongoing conflict in Jammu and Kashmir.

This is evident from a survey conducted by a non-governmental child welfare organization last year. The survey conducted by Save the children has found the presence of at least 2, 14,000 orphans in the state.

Anantnag district of south Kashmir has the maximum number of orphans followed by two districts of north Kashmir-Baramulla and Kupwara. The survey has also depicted the poor financial conditions of the orphans that have forced them to quit studies.

According to the survey, the proportion of children orphaned due to conflict is higher in Anantnag (56%), Baramulla (33 %), and Kupwara (25 %) districts. The survey has also observed that 37 percent of the children were orphaned due to conflict while 55 were orphaned due to natural deaths of parents and 8 percent due to other reasons.

The survey has observed that a large number of children drop out from higher secondary classes, though this is not clearly coming out with respect to primary and secondary segments. While 38 percent orphans are in this age group, only 2 percent of them are undergoing higher secondary education. Only 20 percent of the orphans were attending the same school as the other children of the same age in the same household, implying a less than equal treatment of orphans.

"Around 10 percent of all the orphans are engaged as child labourers of which 3 percent are engaged in paid work and remaining 7 percent in unpaid work. However 7 percent of all households said that taking care of orphans was an economic burden for them and another 4 percent faced other problems because of taking care of orphans such as threats from state and non-state actors," the survey says.
The main reason cited by the children for dropping out of school include poverty or foster parents being unable to afford their education, the other reasons include children being afraid of leaving their homes or school being far away. Stress or trauma in attending school was cited as another reason for dropping out.

"Among the orphans attending schools a large number said that the main distraction in school was that they had worries about families, noise of explosions during conflict and intimidating presence of troops. Around one third of all the orphans had faced emotional stress during the conflict," the survey says.

"While 40 percent felt confused, had a deep sense of lack of control over events, despair and skepticism about the future, 32 percent said that their anxiousness was triggered by sudden loud noises or seeing fatigue/battle uniforms; they had also faced anxiety, sadness and anger after seeing family, friends and neighbours being abused by the militants or the army," it adds

On the impact of the conflict on the young minds, the survey has found that about two fifth of all the orphans (39%) often complained of headache and 29 % had fever occasionally, while 9% had muscle pain and few also felt nausea (4%) and cramps (3%) . The survey found that many orphans experienced various symptoms of trauma – primarily as a result of conflict and the physical and social environment that they were experiencing. Forty Percent of all the orphans showed signs of nervousness 21 percent were very silent, around 20 Percent had depression, 16 Percent reportedly had mood swings, 21 percent were very impatient 12 percent complained of sleeplessness and irritability and 11 percent had withdrawal symptoms.

"On the whole around 5 percent of all the orphans had faced some kinds of physical abuse such as having guns pointed at them, being openly threatened by militants or the army /police being accused of providing support to the fighting sides and being to capture parents or as human shields harassed because of that being illegally detained and interrogated being forced to live outside the house or in hiding (including in forest without any protection being physically assaulted and hurt, being used as bait to capture parents or as human shields)," the survey states.

The overall percentage of the under-18 population of the sample, a crucial indicator for the validity of this study on orphans is 41, which is very close to the corresponding state figure of 42.6.

The socio-demographic pattern of the households surveyed in this study reveals that the average age of the house hold members in the study is young (26.3 years). They predominantly profess Muslim faith (86%) and belong to the general category in terms of caste/ tribe status (71%). Fourty percent of the sample population is engaged in agriculture and non- agricultural work while 23 percent are students.

"The average monthly income of individuals ranges from Rs 1800 (Anantnag) to Rs 5000 (Rajouri). Gainful employment is reportedly low in conflict prone districts," the survey states.