07, Apr 2018 | Mansi Mehta
The Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) recently published a report, titled ‘Terrorized: Impact of Violence on the Children of Jammu and Kashmir’, which details the various ways in which violence has been perpetrated against children in Jammu and Kashmir, and its effects.
First, the report notes that children in the state “are living in the most militarized zone of the world, with the presence of 7,00,000 troopers”. According to the report, this figure “is at least three times higher than at the time of America’s invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The definition of a “child”
The report considers “children” to be “individuals under the age of eighteen years,” as defined by the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), a treaty that outlines “the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children.” It was ratified by India in December 1992. The report goes on to detail how children living in Jammu and Kashmir have been subjected to all six grave violations that the CRC has outlined: killing and maiming, recruitment and use of children, sexual violence, abduction, attacks on schools and hospitals, and the denial of humanitarian access.
Jammu and Kashmir in the 1990s
The report describes the 1990s as “a period of calamity for children,” saying that “incidents of state violence against civilians carried out in lieu of fighting an insurgency” were at their “peak”. According to the report, since 2003, figures suggest that on average at least 26 children were allegedly killed every year, at the hands of government forces, alleged militants, unidentified gunmen, shells that exploded, or shelling across the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan. JKCCS has stated that it believes that violence against Jammu and Kashmir children could be higher than figures suggest, because “trends in reporting cases of violence against children” were not “prominent” in the decade starting in 2000. It reiterates, however, that the years spanning 1990 to 2005 were “the deadliest in terms of scale of violence” in the state.
The report places violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir in the 1990s within the context of the “impunity surrounding human rights abuses committed by armed forces.” It highlights the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) of the early 1990s, saying it “contributed to normalizing unaccountability for human rights abuses and allowed the armed forces to unleash violence, without differentiating between combatant and civilian, let alone between adults and children.” According to the report, the culture of impunity surrounding the armed forces persists because of “systematic lawlessness” in the state.
How children have suffered
The JKCCS conducted a survey regarding the effects of violence in North Kashmir’s Bandipora and Baramulla. Titled ‘Dead But Not Forgotten’, it was published in 2006. It found that 5106 people were allegedly killed and forcibly disappeared between 1989 and 2005, of which 392 were children, or nearly 8% of the total. The survey found that the children were killed in encounters, of which many were fake; they also died in custodial killings, explosions, in clashes with militants, bomb and grenade blasts and in firing between militants and the armed forces. Moreover, at least 36 children, of which ten were alleged militants, were allegedly forcibly disappeared by India’s armed forces in Bandipora and Baramulla.
The report mentions several incidents in which children were killed by armed forces: In August 1998, Special Police Officers (SPOs) allegedly shot and killed 19 people in Sailan in Jammu’s Surankote, of which 11 people were children. The State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) lay the crime at the feet of SPOs, who are civilians drafted by the military or police forces on an ad hoc basis, the report says. In another incident, in June 1999, 15 people were allegedly killed by police, armed forces and SPOs, of which six were children.
Jammu and Kashmir in the 2000s
According to the report, a total of 4571 civilians were allegedly killed in the 15 years between 2003 and 2017. Of these, 318, or nearly 7%, were reportedly children. Overall, including the killings of alleged militants, Jammu and Kashmir has allegedly seen 16,436 killings between 2003 and 2017, a stark contrast against the government touting a “return to normalcy” in the state, the report notes. State police and India’s armed forces allegedly killed at least 144 children, or almost half of the total number of children killed. Children also allegedly died in the widespread protests that took place in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2016, some from tear gas shells and pellet shotguns.
Victims of torture, excessive force and explosions
According to the report, torture is “one of the most rampant and under-reported” forms of abuse to which Kashmiri civilians are subjected, and children are not shielded from it either, because armed forces treat them as adults. The report says that unless torture results in death, its use on “civilian detainees” is not actively discussed. Children in Kashmir have also allegedly fallen victim to the use of excessive force by the armed forces, especially given the lack of a standard operating procedure (SOP) barring guidelines issued by the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights in 2010. Children have also allegedly been targeted by Ikhwan, the private counter-insurgency militia that was formed by the Indian government in 1993, the report says. The establishment of Ikhwan has resulted in the use of the phrase “unidentified gunman” to describe incidents; at least 147 children have allegedly been killed by “unidentified gunmen” in the past 15 years. Children have also fallen victim to explosions, from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), landmines, and grenades, or from shells left by armed forces at the sites of encounters, the report explains.
Of the 318 children killed between 2003 and 2017, 121 were reportedly under the age of 12, while 154 were reportedly between the ages of 13 and 18. Particularly tragic were the deaths of babies and toddlers; 13 children who died were reportedly aged two or under.
Violence against girls
72 of the 318 children killed between 2003 and 2017 were reportedly girls, or nearly 23%. Girls have also been subjected to sexual violence, with rape having been employed as “a weapon of war by the state in order to enforce collective punishment and to instill fear among the rebelling populace.” The report highlights the recent instance of an eight-year-old girl, a member of the nomadic Muslim community, being raped and murdered by a police officer who was a Hindu. Between 2003 and 2017, at least two teenaged girls were allegedly raped in Jammu and Kashmir, the report says. An Ikhwani, a member of the counter-insurgency militia, allegedly raped one girl in 2004; she eventually committed suicide. In 2009, Indian forces allegedly raped and murdered a 16-year-old girl and her 21-year-old sister-in-law in Shopian. In April 2016, a minor girl alleged that she had been molested by an Indian armed personnel, prompting protests in which give people were allegedly shot and killed by the armed forces. The girl was reportedly detained, and her “forcible and false video testimony was leaked,” indicating “the criminal handling of the case,” the report says. The report highlights the “usual prejudicial and victim-blaming attitude” in the handling of the case, noting that the survivor’s confidentiality was not respected.
Sexual violence in Jammu and Kashmir covers a range of crimes, including harassment, abuse, molestation, abduction and rape, and seems to be rife in the state. In October 2013, then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah stated that since 1989, 5,125 cases of rape and 14,953 cases of molestation had been registered in the state. A 2006 Medecins sans Frontieres report found that more people in the state were subjected to sexual violence than in conflict scenarios in Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka. Indian armed forces allegedly engaged in mass sexual assault in February 1991 in the villages of Kunan Poshpora; 27 years later, the survivors are still awaiting justice. It is AFSPA that allows this “systematic impunity,” the report opines.
It must be remembered that although girls and women are disproportionately impacted by sexual violence, men and boys have also been subjected to it. In 2009 in Srinagar, 11 boys aged 9 years to 19 years alleged that they were forced to sodomise each other while in police custody.
Attacks on students and their education
According to the report, students are considered to be a “major section of the dissenting population,” and hundreds have reportedly been killed as a result of violence. The report emphasises that just how armed forces have not discriminated based on age, students have also been viewed as adults, and have been subjected to violence. Reportedly, more than 180 students have been killed in incidents of the violence in the state between 2003 and 2017. Indian armed forces and state police have allegedly been responsible for around 73% of these killings. Students have reportedly died as a result of targeted killings, extra-judicial killings, custodial killings, and due to excessive force against demonstrators, the report says. The mass protests in 2010 and 2016 reportedly saw 38 and 37 student deaths respectively.
The report highlights the “large-scale militarization” of Jammu and Kashmir, saying it has directly affected children’s ability to access education. In the past three decades, several hundred educational institutions have reportedly been occupied by the Indian armed forces, with schools and colleges being utilised as military bases. “The presence of Indian armed forces in civilian spaces compromises not only the security of the civilian population but impedes and restricts the safe and free access to education for children,” the report explains. Moreover, the proximity of armed forces to educational institutions puts children under threat of surveillance, and being subjected to sexual violence, and also reportedly “creates the scenario of human shields”. In 2006, the Public Commission on Human Rights (PCHR) published a report, which covered the years from 1990-2005, and contained a list of 46 schools that were then occupied by armed forces. That report also highlighted the “alarming increase in the dropout rate” for students, saying it was 57.41% for primary students, 48% for middle level students, and 25% for the matriculation level and above. The JKCCS report notes that although the dropout rate has since improved, repeated instances of violence have negatively affected the education of children in the state.
The 2006 PCHR report, titled ‘State of Human Rights in Jammu Kashmir (1990 – 2005), cited a survey that was carried out in the mid-1990s that found that “more than 400 schools were gutted during the conflict, and more than 60% of children between the age of 10 and 14 were deprived of education because of the conflict”. In 2016, the mass protests sparked by the killing of popular militant Burhan Wani saw at least 35 schools being torched, with “unidentified persons” being responsible for the arson in most instances. These incidents prompted widespread panic, and forced the halving of the academic year. Following Wani’s death, Indian paramilitary forces also reportedly occupied at least seven schools.
Children as victims of illegal detentions
The draconian Public Safety Act (PSA) has been employed to target critics of the government, and has also been used against children. The Act permits the detention of individuals for up to two years at a time without affording them a trial. According to a 2011 Amnesty International report, an estimated 8,000 to 20,000 people have been detained in Jammu and Kashmir under the PSA. Using the Right to Information Act, the JKCCS worked to compile details of at least 5597 of those who were detained between 1990 and 2013; reportedly, several hundred of these were children.
The report notes that it is difficult to obtain the exact number of children detained under the PSA, as the government has not recorded such information; the report alleges that all arrests under the PSA are conducted in a way that the detainee’s age is deliberately recorded as above 18 in police documentation. High Court lawyers in the state reportedly affirm that children are commonly detained under the PSA, and that this practice has been prevalent since the 1990s. A senior High Court lawyer, advocate Shafkat Hussain, who has represented numerous detainees, feels that “the detention of minor children has a severe impact on their psychological health,” and that there are many cases in which minors have been repeatedly arrested and are considered “habitual offenders”. In 2016, Hussain reportedly represented 200 youth who had been booked under the PSA.
According to the report, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has previously criticised Kashmiri children’s arbitrary detentions. It said that the detention of Mehraj ud Din Khanday, 16, in November 2008, violated Article 14(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The article states that “all proceedings against juveniles shall take into account their age and the desirability of promoting their rehabilitation.”
The JKCCS report also highlights the case of Rayees Ahmad Mir, who, at age 16, was arrested in September 2016 for allegedly pelting stones at armed forces. The PSA order reportedly stated that his age was 18, which was inconsistent with his school records. Although the High Court ordered that Rayees be considered a juvenile and placed in a juvenile home, he spent his detention in Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu, 360km from his hometown. He was released three weeks after the High Court cancelled his PSA, but spent time at Jammu’s Joint Interrogation Centre (JIC) before his release.
The report alleges that the arrests of children using the PSA are attempts at punishing and persecuting them. In some instances, they mark the start of fomenting “anti-state sentiment” in children, who are allegedly subject to routine harassment by the police whenever there are anti-government demonstrations in the area.
Children’s rights are also violated in Jammu and Kashmir in other ways, with minors who are arrested being tried in regular courts and imprisoned with other detainees “and criminals,” the report says. The Juvenile Justice Act of 1997 was amended in 2013, and outlines the establishment of Juvenile Justice Boards in each state district, to be headed by a magistrate. Their purpose is to uphold the rights of children who come into conflict with the law. However, the report notes that the state has not established the boards, and has also not appointed child protection officers and created designated homes for juveniles in each state district.
Recommendations from the JKCCS
After outlining in extensive detail the plight of children in Jammu and Kashmir, the JKCCS has laid out several recommendations that would help better their situation. It has called on the Jammu and Kashmir government as well as the government of India to grant free access to the state to the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, to look into the allegations outlined in the report. It has also called on the governments to form a committee to investigate the grave violations against children under the CRC, one that would include experts from the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNICEF, as well as eminent jurists.
Meanwhile, the families of victims must be compensated, and spaces used by children such as education institutions must be demilitarised. The state government should also set up the previously mentioned Juvenile Justice Boards, and ensure that no minor is detained under the PSA. All those currently detained in the PSA should be promptly freed. Moreover, peaceful protests taking place within or outside educational establishments “should not be criminalized and dealt with any kind of force.”
The entire report may be read here
Feature Image: Pahari and Bakarwal children sit in front of a fallen tree in Lidderwat, Kashmir. Picture by Matt Brandon.