Kashmir's orphan girls

Nearly 40 percent of over 200,000 orphans in India-administered Kashmir are victims of armed conflict.

| | Human Rights, India, Kashmir, Asia

A group of girls wearing headscarves start their day with a breakfast of traditional bread and salted tea at an orphanage located on the outskirts of Srinagar, the capital of India-administered Kashmir.

Presently home to 114 girls, Gulshan-e-Banaat - located 10km away from Srinagar - is one of the biggest orphanages for girls in the disputed region claimed by both India and Pakistan. Started in 2002, the orphanage is part of a local NGO which also runs 11 similar homes for children.

The number of orphans in Kashmir mushroomed dramatically with the beginning of an armed conflict against Indian rule in 1989. 

Tens of thousands of people have been killed, and an estimated 10,000 disappeared during the past 25 years of the armed rebellion.

There are over 200,000 orphans in the Himalayan region, out of which 37 percent are said to have been orphaned during the conflict, according to a study conducted by Save the Children, a UK-based NGO.

"Till 1989, the number of orphan boys was just 25 until the armed conflict took an ugly turn," Zahoor Ahmad Tak, chairman of Gulshan-e-Banaat, said.

"Scores of similar homes started functioning during the early 90s when the armed conflict was at its peak. From 1993 to 1997 all the orphanages were packed with conflict orphans," he said.

Abida, a 17-year-old girl at the orphanage, aspires to qualify for the prestigious Indian civil services examination to become an officer.

"This place has beautifully chiseled my life in a way that I would never have gotten if I had stayed at my own home. Every need of ours is taken care of besides imparting multi-disciplinary knowledge, religion, and homemaking," Abida told Al Jazeera.


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