|Children stand in the doorway of a burned out classrooms at their school in Yala Province in 2008. © UNICEFThailand/2008/Athit Perawongmetha|
The experts’ comments came at seminar that was a side event to the Deep South Alternative Media for Peace/Pattani Festival at the Prince of Songkhla University campus in Pattani. The event, organized from February 26-27 by Deep South Watch, a non-government organization (NGO) that monitors the situation in the southernmost provinces, was aimed at promoting peace building process among media and civil society.
According to a 2013 UNICEF study on the situation of children in the deep south, about 11,500 incidents of armed conflict have been reported in Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla provinces since early 2004. As of end February 2014, more than 120 children have been killed and some 630 others injured, while 5,500 children have been orphaned due to the violence, according to Deep South Coordination Center.
In 2013, a total of five children were killed in the violence in the four southernmost provinces, while five children have already been killed in the first two months of 2014, according to Deep South Watch.
Anchana Heemmina, Director of the Heart Support Group, a non-government organization working with children and youth in the southernmost provinces, said although children are not the target of violence, the increasing number of child victims suggests those carrying out attacks are less concerned with or careful about the safety of children.
Lacking appropriate psychological support
Considering the number of children affected by the violence, Dr. Pechdau Tohmeena, Director of Mental Health Centre 12, said children who have been through traumatic violent experiences are at risk of being prone to violence as adults.
In 2008, the Ministry of Public Health set up a rehabilitation unit for children affected by violence at Yala Provincial Hospital, but so far less than 700 children have been brought in for treatment. Dr. Pechdau said this is because many parents are not aware of the importance of psychological treatment and still lack knowledge and skills to detect signs of psychological problems their children may have.
“There is an 11-year-old girl who was shot while sitting in her classroom three years ago,” Dr. Pechdau said. “She came to the hospital many times as she could not breathe properly, but we later found that she urgently needed psychological treatment.”
Dr. Pechdau said the girl believed that other children at school were going to attack her, and that she responded by choking them. As a result, the girl has had to change schools four times. Her family had not informed the doctor that the girl suffered from hallucinations.
Due to security concerns and mistrust of government officials by local residents in the restive southern provinces, it is difficult for health care workers to make home visits, Dr. Pechdau said, adding that there is a need for increased community involvement in monitoring the physical and emotional well being of children.
Dr. Pechdau said that while the government is providing support for children affected by violence, most of it is in the form of financial assistance. Key ministries and organizations responsible for providing services to children, including the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Public Health, Ministry of Social Security, Human Development and the Ministry of Interior and Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre, still lack effective coordination with one another, she said.
Metta Kuning, Director of the Deep South Coordination Centre, said she is worried about economic and social development in the deep south in the future as many children living there lack the inspiration needed to promote their future development. According to a study on the quality of life among the poor in the far south, the goal of many children is only to become unskilled labourers when they grow up.
Some experts also raised concerns about children born in the southernmost provinces after 2004, as they may lack an understanding of the concept of peace and how to live in harmony with people of different beliefs and ideologies.