In Depth

Why orphanages are not the answer

After a speedy CRPF jeep mowed down an orphan in Nowhatta on June 1, the plight of orphans in Kashmir has inadvertently surfaced, with many asking: Is orphanage a solution?

Shattered by another death in their family, the two teen sisters sat benumbed in a sea of shrieking mourners at their residence when their dead sibling was being taken out in a procession showered by tears and candies on June 2. Some years back when they lost their mother to diabetes and father to a heart attack, they were just kids. Their life, since then, was a promise in form of their mowed sibling.

But as their ‘tulip of paradise’ joined his parents in the afterlife, he has left them behind — sad, sorrowing and seemingly stunned, by the vicious fate that the family suffered.

In their state of stupor, the sibling’s funeral was taken out through crowded alleys, only to be gassed on the street outside. With mourning, came the soul-stirring musing about the fate of the orphan sisters.

“Today they’ve been rendered orphans again,” said a tearful family relative. Qaiser, their default headman, was fighting hard to get their death-doomed lives on track.

“Now, he has left them too, just like their parents,” the mournful kin continued. “But one has to credit their aunt and uncle for becoming their parents. The couple has led by an example in Kashmir, where such kids normally end up in orphanages.”

This random chat might not have caught the attention of the seething, sorrowing mourners that day, but it did point out to the fact how in Kashmir’s conflict terrain, such kids become an objects of pity, before being forgotten in the larger and perpetual war crisis—which keeps throwing newer orphans around.

For largely responding to the crisis with orphanages, many seem to question the strife-stricken society’s way of dealing with its orphans.

“While we’re discussing these unfortunate orphan sisters here,” the neighbour continued, “we’ve these orphanage people making rounds around neighbourhoods, for seeking Ramzan relief for these kids. What more could be unfortunate for a society than a fact that our orphans need this seasonal charity for their survival? Why can’t we just adopt and own them?”

This sense is apparently rising, especially in Kashmir’s new generation.

In Srinagar, a group of young, educated men have been mulling to take care of orphans rather than going for their own kids.

Most of these youngsters are professionals and are deeply following the activities of their homeland.

“I see it a sin to go for my own children when hundreds of orphans are already craving for the normal upbringing and life,” said Hafeez Bhat, a banker from Bhagat. “We all need to chip in with our role. There’s no bigger charity than to adopt an orphan and give him/her a good life.”

Bhat’s friend-zone believes that sending orphans to orphanages wouldn’t help the conflict-battered society. For them, orphanages are a bad solution where children can’t grow normally.

Notably, the United Nations—where Kashmir is registered as a conflict zone—recommends that orphanages be used only as a last resort. “But unfortunately in Kashmir,” said Bhat, “orphanages are the only homes available for such unfortunate children.”

In many developed countries like North America and Europe, there’re no orphanages, as they believe orphans should be raised in extended-adoptive families or in foster care.

“These norms are available in developing countries, too,” said Saleem Ilahi, a Social Science scholar from Srinagar. “But they’re hardly being implemented.”

Ilahi who has mapped the life of orphans in Kashmir in his research works believes that orphanages are not the answer to the crisis created by Kashmir’s war-like situation.

“Helping orphans is not an easy process in Kashmir,” the scholar said. “It can often end up doing more harm than good. I know this particular case where an orphan from Kupwara had landed in a Srinagar orphanage. After Class 12 when he was discharged from it, he couldn’t get into the groove. He was institutionalised and couldn’t excel beyond a point in life. Today, I’m told, the guy is struggling to make his living. I mean, why can’t we at least give such kids a foster care?”

In foster care, a minor is placed into a residential child care community and is taken care of by a state-certified caregiver called as a foster parent.

“In conflict zones or in war territories,” Ilahi said, “foster care adoption has helped to mitigate the crisis. We’ve examples of Great Depression or World War-II in front of us, when the foster parenting helped many orphaned lives to bloom.”

And given the number of orphans and their harrowing orphanage experiences, many say, Kashmiri society seriously needs to consider the foster care. These suggestions are pouring at a time when hardly anybody in Kashmir is willing to marry an orphan. In this pervasive indifference, many orphan girls have already crossed their marriageable age.

Kashmir houses around 215,000 orphans, as per a 2014 study by NGO Save the Children. 15 per cent of them are finding themselves in orphanages, the study says, where according to the mental specialists orphans remain exposed to psychological disturbances—like severe depression—which sometimes manifests into a felony.

Like Kashmir, the problem of orphans holds grave consequences for Palestinian society. Given the nature of conflict in these places, parallels are often being drawn between Kashmir and Palestine. But unlike Palestinian society which doesn’t allow foreign orphanages to take their kids for adoption, such norms don’t seem to apply for Kashmir.

Apart from some orphanages being run by Indian Army in Kashmir, a Pune-based NGO called Sarhad has adopted many conflict amassed orphans from the Valley. This is where, the mental specialists warn, it’s creating another crisis. They say, foreign volunteers cause children in orphanages to develop attachment disorder.

No wonder then, Kashmiri orphans enrolled by Pune’s NGO are mainly non-Kashmiri in their outlook than what they were supposed to be!


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