Is mushrooming of orphanages answer to problems of orphans?
Experts say ‘no’ as they point out shortcomings in such institutions
Srinagar, Jan 23: With an alarming increase in the number of orphans and destitute children in the Valley, orphanages too have grown figuratively even though sheer number of orphanages is in no way an indicator of their practical utility. Experts believe that instead of having orphanages mushroom up here, it’s better to rehabilitated the orphans and destitute within the community.
“We should discourage this system (orphanages) and the problem should be tackled through rehabilitation process in which community leaders and general public participate and work for orphans’ welfare,” says noted social activist, Abdul Rasheed Hanjoora. From 1989 to 1995, there were only 35000 orphan children in Kashmir while as at present their number is around 1 lakh and there are 3000-4000 orphanages in the Valley providing shelter to these orphans, Hanjoora informed. Drawing a relationship between orphans and child labour, experts cite Budgam district as an example, saying that there are over 3000 child laborers in the district and about 60 percent of them are orphans.
Besides poverty, Hanjoora says the alarmingly high numbers of orphans is direct fallout of “chronic conflict - more than two decades of turmoil has left behind thousands of orphans who live in conditions of extreme poverty.”
Hanjoora is not happy with the kind of treatment orphans get in orphanages. “Most of the orphanages are not even able to provide basic facilities that include health check-ups, education, food et. al. to these children and they also inculcate bad habits and language there as nobody is really there to provide moral education,” he said. Psychiatrist, Dr. Mushtaq Margoob asserts that most common problem faced by orphans in these orphanages include a sense of loss - of home, parents and other relatives; besides there is high drop-out rate from schools, lack of proper health-care, there are problems with immunization, social downfall, child labor and drug abuse. Margoob says the practice of placing deprived children having no emotional support or material resources in residential institutions like orphanages is a recent phenomenon in Kashmir.
“Before the turmoil, orphans would mostly get adopted by one of their relatives or neighbors because the social structure and cultural values would never allow people to send these homeless children to orphanages,” informs Margoob.
This argument is supported by the fact that only one orphanage existed in Srinagar city before 1986. Psychiatrist further believes that orphanages are not ideal places for children to live in. “Children here are emotionally more vulnerable; loss of parent (s) exposes child to psychological disturbances which sometimes also lead to criminal tendencies in them,” believes Margoob.
“It is far better if these children are nurtured in normal family environment than these orphanages,” adds he. When asked about the mental status of children living in orphanages, he said, “The fact cannot be ignored that children living in orphanages do faces stress.” According to him, alien place with no sense of belonging strongly impinges upon children. They actually feel insecure and fearful almost about everything. In this sequel they are unable to live childhood as normal children. “Initially these children appear quite normal but once you develop rapport with them their psychological disturbance comes to fore. And, these children can become victims of loneliness as most of them fare in the same age-group and hence cannot share their feelings and concerns.
Margoob says the emotional needs of orphans are hardly addressed at orphanages. He also warns about the elder children falling in the age group of 12-14 years being more vulnerable to medical and psychological hazards as compared to young children. “This can be seen in the context as they grow up the concept of orphanage impinges upon their self esteem.”
In Kashmir valley most of the orphanages are run by NGOs. Noted educationist, Prof. (Dr) A G Madhoosh while throwing more light on the topic says, “Children living in such houses lack individuality, and confidence and then the social stigma of living in an orphanage adds more to their stress.” Pointing out that the care available in orphanages is not up to the mark, Madhosh says, “If the institutional care is at-least up to the mark, stress level among children gets minimized to some extent. Quality residential set-up, modern education, good nutrition with other recreational facilities leads to the feeling of secure future.”