Saturday, March 21, 2009

Children of Conflict

Kashmir has been simmering in a conflict for two decades now. The issue which is not only protracted but blinding also has taken a massive toll on human lives. The main recipients of this turmoil are the children. In conflict zones their vulnerability is often greatly increased because violence claims their first line of defense - their parents. Over the past two decades, conflict has impacted children more brutally than ever. They are victims of violence, abuse, exploitation, malnutrition, disease, displacement and poverty and witness to the aftermath as well. Their increased isolation from normal functioning of the society has an effect which massively impairs their sense of security and adds to the confusion between judging right and wrong. Where children should be busy with pen and a pencil using their young blossoming minds towards writing their future we often see them hurdling stones, fighting pitch battles on the streets and heading towards other unsocial acts. With the destruction of school buildings, learning centers and frequent strikes, the children are badly affected. Today they have to struggle against an insurgency that is turning deadlier. There are growing reports of an increase in the number of children with psychosomatic disorders and disturbed behavior.
A survey conducted among children in Jammu and Kashmir reveals that children continue to witness, experience and hear of killings and atrocities, and are exposed to physical and emotional violence; they suffer from various psychosomatic and psychiatric ailments. In the Kashmir region, 57.38 per cent of the children have become fearful, 55.36 per cent suffer from depression, and 54.25 per cent cannot sleep. In the mixed parts of the Jammu region, for children living in the migrant camps the corresponding figures are 51.17 per cent, 53.98 per cent and 41.17 per cent.

The data reveals the shattering impact of violence on the children. Children in armed conflict also routinely experience emotionally and psychologically painful events such as the violent death of a parent or close relative; separation from family; witnessing loved ones being killed or tortured; displacement from home and community; exposure to combat and other life-threatening situations; acts of abuse such as being abducted, arrested, held in detention, raped, tortured; disruption of school routines and community life; destitution and an uncertain future. Children of all ages are also strongly affected by the stress levels and situation of their adult caretakers. The psychological and social impact of such conditions brings a disillusioned view about life as a whole. Family relations are altered, emotional ties broken, sense of responsibility hampered leaving children exposed to all kind of hard realities which they are unable to comprehend and deal with. This all in itself is a rapid step towards self destruction and the people responsible for such apathy are none other than us ourselves. Fear and anger generated among youth and children gives rise to unprecedented violence.



In today's world violence is often associated with glamour. When ever stories of conflict, terrorism and possibilities of war are shown in a glamorized way on T.V it easily catches the attention of children. Problems arising by witnessing glamorized part of violence in the media are that it rarely shows the consequences of violent behavior. What is seen is only the shocking act, but not the suffering of the victim, how the victim will cope, punishment or guilt of the perpetrator, or legal or social ramifications? It appears that one can behave violently and walk away from the incident without remorse or punishment. A full story is rarely seen or perceived from what is presented in the media.

Therefore, children believe that they are not responsible for violent behavior, as they hardly see anyone being held responsible for the violent acts they commit.

Research has shown that violent television programs lead children to engage in less imaginative play and instead they simply imitate the violent behavior the saw. They may play "war," pretend to blow things up or recreate violent attacks. When children do engage in this behavior, repercussions are devastating. 

On the other hand parents and the society are equally to be blamed for their condition. We have associated acts of violence as our daily routine. Stone pelting has become a time pass for youth who mettle out their frustration in violent ways. As they face issues like unemployment, corruption, lack of basic enmities and a dark future their empty minds become devils workshop bringing destruction and violence at the doorstep of every home. The last two decades has bought our once thriving economy stumbling down. Each and every business house has suffered huge losses. Families were forced to look for options outside state as almost all the basic infrastructure crumbled down. Those who were fortunate enough to get settled outside slowly rebuilt their lives to some extent but people belonging to the lower economic strata were the biggest sufferers. Result- frustration and anger brewed in them and passed on to the younger generation. The main point to note here is that knowing all the facts about the effect of violence in broader perspective we still never make a sincere effort to either stop it or make people understand the destruction we are heaving on our own selves. Rather than stopping children participating in violent acts we encourage them in one way or another to indulge in these inhuman acts. Isn't it time that we really put our heads together and make an effort where we can live in an atmosphere of peace and prosperity.

A recent visit to a migrant camp in Jammu shows the same sorry state of children. "The condition of children in the migrant camps is pathetic.

They have lost their identity and are struggling to even get two square meals per day. Violence and its aftermath have scarred them for life. In the initial phase, children were scared to see dead bodies and wounded people. After passing through a long course of violence, they have developed resistance and even do not seem to notice them. This tendency has destroyed the creativeness of children and made them violent. The emerging behavior will bring a new culture of violence in society, family and schools. The violent activities are transforming the behavior of the children all over the country. Most of the children are willing to do anything for money and can become easy tools for antisocial elements.

Many children have problems of depression and suppression. If we are unable to rescue the children from violence, the new generation will be more violent.
They need help on all the fronts on urgent basis otherwise we will not only loose the young generation but it will also make the coming generation totally handicapped and directionless" says Sanjay Dhar a social activist who works for the rehabilitation of children in the migrant camps. Sanjay is among very few activists who preach a lesson of secularism, peace and universal brotherhood among children of conflict. 

On this side of the tunnel Dr. Rouf Malik another social activist working with orphans, widows and children describe their lives as nothing more than endless sufferings. "Most of our generation is confused. They even don't realize what they are doing with themselves and the atmosphere of uncertainty around them plays a role of catalyst. Past two decades have seen a mushrooming rise in the number of orphans and young widows. There is no serious thought given by our society and the government towards the dooming future. Everybody lacks compassion and a realistic thought. That is why even small incidents become so violent. It's about time that we give serious thought to this problem or otherwise it will become an epidemic and will consume us as a whole." Dr Rouf Malik has recently won an award by CNN IBN and Reliance Industries Ltd. for a Real Hero. He says that everyone who has compassion for humans and works for humanity is a hero. Humans can only survive when there is peace and development. Violence brings destruction and end to human race. This is to be realized by all of us. Dr Amit Wanchoo a Kashmiri Pandit who grew up in the turmoil and preferred to stay in Kashmir when mostly others migrated says "What kind of society are we are producing when children are being socialized in a hostile and violent situation? Serious thought needs to be given to this issue. The young generation is still in a confused state of turmoil from past 20 years and will remain to be in next 20 years as well, unless immediate steps are taken to address this grave situation.

Kashmiri culture always played a role model in universal brotherhood. Both Muslims as well as Pandits lived together as brothers and sisters. The turmoil has created deep gaps between the two communities and both communities have suffered. It's about time that children from both communities should be bought together and groomed with modern ways of education, so our rich heritage culture is preserved and our society can progress as a whole, as children are the future faces of the state." 

Parents, teachers and the elder members of the society can play a very vital role in shaping a positive and healthy environment around children. Elders, who are the main authority figures in a child's life, need to be calm and reassuring when dealing with real or viewed violence. It is important that adults take care of their needs and deal with their emotion so they can serve children with a god perspective that will help them cope. The difference between possibility and probability of violence happening to children needs to be very clear to them. Children should be encouraged to ask questions and talk about their feelings. It is important that they feel safe to express themselves in order to help children work through their feelings. Adults should empathize with children and reassure them that others are sharing their feelings and that it is normal for them to go through this coping process. It is advisable for children to keep a normal routine to have stability in their lives.

This can include regular school timings, mealtimes, bedtimes, exercise, and family times. Time with the family is crucial and reaffirms parental love for children. Another way to help children cope is to make them distinguish between right and wrong and remind them of their own coping skills. Surely each child can overcome a struggle and emerge strong after the challenge. It is important that adults keep a positive perspective and give reassurance of a positive future to children. Government should also come forward and help in setting regular camps for counseling and psychiatric help should be given to all those who suffer from problems. The psychiatric hospitals should be run on modern lines and serious effort should be made in providing jobs and developing private sectors so our youth works for not only their own betterment but also for the progress of our state.


Source: http://www.globalaging.org/armedconflict/countryreports/asiapacific/conflict.htm


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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