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Fighting in Kashmir gives rise to orphanages

Between 60,000 and 100,000 children in this state of 5.5 million people are thought to be orphans – including fatherless children with mothers too poor to care for them.

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Orphaned: There are between 60,000 and 100,000 orphans in Kashmir.

Mian Ridge

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Gazi Abdullah, a gentle, articulate 11-year-old considers himself fortunate. He describes a life filled with friends, games of cricket, and top scores in math.

But it hasn't always been so. Without a trace of self-pity, he tells how his father was killed in crossfire between separatist militants and the Army when he was two years old.

"After that our home was not in a good condition," he says, alluding to the wretched poverty that he, his mother, and his sister endured for years.

Today, Gazi lives at an orphanage in Srinagar, Kashmir's main city, with 350 other children ages 6 to 18, more than half of whom are victims of Kashmir's 20-year insurrection against India.

Between 60,000 and 100,000 children in this state of 5.5 million people are thought to be orphans – a term here that refers to children who have lost their fathers and whose mothers are too poor to look after them.

Before 1989, when separatists began their uprising against India, Kashmir had few orphanages. Srinagar had just one, with fewer than 20 children. But today there are half a dozen large institutions in the city – and even more scattered throughout the Kashmir Valley.

"This was never part of our culture before all the violence," says Saifullah Khalid, the principal of the Muslim Welfare Society-run orphanage where Abdullah lives.

"Before, people would never have taken their brother's children to a strange place and left them there," he says, gesturing at the orphanage's bare, unfurnished interior. "They would have adopted them. But with the huge numbers of deaths, this became impossible," he says.

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