Usman was just 4 when he was hurt in a shooting that killed his father in Thailand’s insurgency-stricken Deep South.
The boy’s injuries were minor but, four years on, the attack traumatizes him.
“It feels like yesterday. It continues to frighten me, and I'm scared,” Usman, now 8 years old, told BenarNews, asking his last name not be published.
He is among thousands of children who have been scarred or afflicted in some way by a decades-long separatist conflict in Thailand’s predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking southern border region, according to local special education officials and human rights advocates.
Usman, who is from Yala province, was among youngsters, including some with physical disabilities, who attended a recent celebration of Children’s Day at a special education school in neighboring Pattani province.
“All I want for Children’s Day is to be with my mother as long as I can, and I hope no such tragic incident is inflicted on anybody else. I hope that the sound of bombs and the sound of gun-fighting ceases, and I hope that one day I can forget that incident,” he said.
Nearly 6,700 people have been killed in violence associated with the conflict since 2004.
The war has orphaned at least 6,000 children and made widows out of at least 3,000 women, according to the Southern Women’s Peace Network to Stop Violence, a local NGO.
Since January 2014 alone, 89 people under the age of 18 have been killed, and another 478 have been injured in shootings or bombings in the Deep South, according to Duay Jai (with Heart) Group, a human rights advocacy group.
In addition, some 5,000 other children in the Deep South have been born with disabilities, according to Surat Boonrit, the director of special education programs in Pattani, who organized the Children’s Day event on Jan. 13.
“The children who are directly affected by the ongoing violence received special attention from authorities, more so than ordinary children. This special attention is extended to the parents as well,” Surat told BenarNews.
“I am very happy to be part of this effort to bring some happiness to these children. They seem happy. Their parents, too. They received gifts and were allowed to demonstrate their skills,” Surat said, choking back tears.
More than 300 children from 12 districts, accompanied by their parents, took part in the day-long celebration.
Asiyah Nasae (pictured), 6, who was born without arms, demonstrated her drawing skills at one of the center’s booths.
“My father sometimes carries me and sometimes I hop on one leg,” Asiyah told BenarNews. “If I have a wheelchair, I can help myself.”
She expressed the wish that she be awarded a scholarship so she could prolong her education in the arts as well as “get a wheelchair so my father can push me to school.”