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Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Silent deaths in restive South
Car bombs, ambushes, arson and drive-by shootings. The spiralling violence in the deep South is making headlines every day. Yet we know very little about how this "men's war" is affecting the lives of women and children.
The problem at hand is not only about the female victims who account for up to one-third of the 4,524 deaths during this strife which is now in its seventh year.
Nor is it only about some 2,000 widows and 5,000 orphans who are bearing the brunt of the southern violence. This fatal clash between Thai and Malay nationalism has gone much deeper, straight into women's wombs.
According to Public Health authorities, the health of pregnant women in the three southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat has deteriorated so badly that it has become a crisis in itself. Although the health conditions of southern Muslim women generally lag behind that of women in other regions due to poorer health infrastructure and persistent cultural resistance, the situation had been improving before the violence erupted in January 2004.
Since then, it has been a total nightmare. Amid the intensifying turbulence, the number of women dying in childbirth due to pregnancy complications has skyrocketed because the widespread violence prevents them from getting proper prenatal care. Meanwhile, the lack of health personnel and the daily violent attacks have forced hospitals to cut down their outreach services to the bare minimum.
According to the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre, the mother mortality ratio has risen two-fold from 26:100,000 in 2003 to 51:100,000 in 2006, which is three times higher than the national standard.
A large number of pregnant women in the restive South also suffer from stress, malnutrition and anaemia, resulting in the widespread problem of shockingly low weight of newborns.
While the national birth weight is 2.5kg, many newborns in the deep South weigh as low as 800 grammes at birth, which entails a host of complicated illnesses. Many of them die before their first birthday. There is no need to ask, then, why infant mortality in the deep South is 30% higher than the national average.
These silent deaths of mothers and their babies are happening every single day. Silent because they are not counted as casualties of war, and are thus brushed aside as meaningless, unworthy of any attention.
Given the rising mortality rates of mothers and infants as the violence rages on, it would be no an exaggeration to say that the main casualties are the mothers and their babies.
But who cares, really? The self-proclaimed Muslim warriors certainly do not. They are too busy with their grand, heroic scheme to retrieve their "motherland" from the Buddhist state.
The Thai military? Why should they care, when their role as guardians of national sovereignty bring them colossal military budgets. How colossal? The country has spent 145 billion baht during the past seven years to support military operations in the South. If this is not colossal, what is? Yet the military has failed miserably to contain the violence. But the generals are not perturbed. Why should they be, when ultra-nationalism of mainstream society is on their side. The important thing for the military is to look busy protecting the territory. And if the situation is still out hand, they can just call for more money to boost military operations.
But can we lay the blame on the military alone? The abuses from ethnic discrimination are rife, so are the local Muslims' pain against state injustice. Yet the centralised judicial system has totally failed to deliver what people need - justice.
Of the 7,680 villagers arrested, the police could file security charges against only 1,500 of them. And the snail's pace of the courts has resulted in only half of these cases being processed.
The first court eventually dismissed half of the cases due to insufficient evidence. The single case that managed to reach the Supreme Court was also acquitted.
Meanwhile, more than 500 defendants are languishing in prison as their court cases drag on endlessly.
Just imagine the bitterness on the ground.
This bitterness is stoking the southern conflagration, which is fuelled by state abuse and inefficiency.
And while the men with their ideologies and prejudice fight on, mothers and their babies are dying silently, like falling leaves.
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