Fadia Sulong is too young to remember her father.
“I never knew my father at all. My grand-mom sometimes shows me pictures of him,” the 8-year-old girl from the restive southern Thai province of Yala told BenarNews.
“She says he died because he was shot when I was 13 days old. He went out to buy some beef for my mother to eat, but he got shot,” Fadia said of her father who was killed in January 2008.
He is one of 6,543 people who lost their lives in violence related to a separatist insurgency, which has raged in Yala and other parts of Thailand’s predominantly Muslim far south since 2004, according to Deep South Watch, a local NGO.
Indiscriminate violence from the conflict and the death toll have also left some 6,000 children orphaned and 3,000 women widowed, according to the Southern Women’s Peace Network to Stop Violence, another NGO in the region.
Monday marked the 12th anniversary of a rebel attack on a Thai army depot that is widely seen as a watershed moment in the long-running conflict.
“The unrest that has taken place in the southern border provinces for more than a decade has affected the lives of everyone in the region. No party or group has been spared, regardless of religious or traditional beliefs, gender, age, occupation, social standing or education levels,” Network chairwoman Rosida Pusu told BenarNews.
“A worrying aspect is how women and children are falling victim to the violence and unrest, directly so in many cases. It is also causing both women and orphaned children to face isolation in society because there is insufficient foster care,” Pusu added.
‘I sometimes get to see my mother’
In the case of Fadia and her 11-year-old brother, Fadel, their father’s killing had an even bigger impact on the family. It forced their mother to leave them in their grandmother’s care in order to find work outside their village.
The siblings hardly see their mother, Yamae-ah Manahing.
“I sometimes get to see my mother when she comes home for a visit,” Fadia said.
“My grand-mom tells us that my mom can’t stay with us because she has to go away and work to make money so we can go to school and buy food. As soon as she saves up a lot of money, she will come back to live with us, but until that day we must be patient,” the little girl said.
The children live with their grandmother, Waemeenoh Samoh, in a wood-and-concrete dwelling in Yaha, a district of Yala.
The children’s father was working as an oxen breeder under contract with the army’s 42nd Mobile Development Unit in Yaha, when he was shot on Jan. 9, 2008, Samoh told BenarNews.
After he was killed, her daughter had no choice but to seek employment elsewhere, Samoh said. She now works in a dangerous area that makes it hard for her to commute to or from work, or visit Fadia and Fadel often.
“She is still deeply saddened,” Samoh, 73, said of her granddaughter. “She misses her mother who has had to leave her to go off and find work and who can only come back to visit her family once in a long while.”
The family, however, has benefited from financial help from the Thai government, which grants subsidies to families who have lost members to the violence in the Deep South.
The subsidies are part of an estimated 206 billion baht (U.S. $5.7 billion) spent by the government in the region, according to Deep South Watch.
“Our family was given more than 500,000 baht (U.S. $13,800) in compensation,” Samoh said. “The children’s mom used this to build a house and to pay for both children’s education over the past six years since their father died.”
Samoh helps her grandchildren with their homework, and feeds and dresses them.
“I think we are at least fortunate that we can provide a stable home for them. At least we have a roof over our heads to protect us when the rains come, unlike some people who have it a lot worse than we do,” she told BenarNews.
‘We can still provide for her’
Many other children have lost both parents to the violence in the Deep South.
One of the orphans, Sripassorn “Wanmai” Chuaysen, lost her father and mother when she was just two months old.
Her parents were killed on Oct. 8, 2012, when gunmen opened fire on the local branch of the Office of the Rubber Replanting Aid Fund in Khok Pho district, Pattani province.
Wanmai, whose nickname means “New Day,” now lives with her maternal grandfather, Uthit Saengthong, in the provincial capital.
“After the incident, Wanmai was sent to the Child and Family Shelter in Pattani for more than two weeks, because there was nobody left to take care of her after her parents died. After that, relatives on her father’s side took her in for two years,” Uthit told BenarNews.
“But later, when I saw the state she was in, I felt terrible and decided to take care of her myself. Even though my family is poor, we can still provide for her,” he said.