What would you expect from a 13-year-old girl when her elder brother grabs her mobile phone after she did not activate the hotspot as asked by him? Shockingly, it resulted in suicide. This is one of the many cases from the report by a committee on Child Suicides in Kerala which analysed 158 cases in Kerala from January 2020 to July 2020. The victim, in this case, belonged to an economically and socially well to do family. The deceased’s girl’s father is an overseer in the Postal Department while the mother is a school teacher.

The issue of suicides among children became a topic of discussion following the suicide of a Class 9 student from Malappuram district. The girl killed herself after she missed an online class on June 1 as she had no television or smartphone at home to access the same. The charred remains of the 14-year-old were found from her neighborhood and the police retrieved a suicide note from her room. ‘I’m going,’ the note read. According to her father, a 45-year-old daily wager, she had been depressed over being unable to attend the online classes.

But a report of the committee chaired by R Sreelekha IPS, (DGP, Fire & Rescue Services) and Anupama TV IAS, Director, Women & Child Development Department, among others, said, “we may have to infer that lockdown due to Covid-19 as well as online classes have not caused undue stress to the children.”

“The figures for the same period was in 2019 was 83, which leads us to conclude that there is no direct effect due to Covid/lockdown. But there are connected issues- two children from Malappuram district committed suicide due to lack of gadgets for online education, one child because she was forbidden by parents from playing outside fearing Covid-19,” the report noted.

As per the statistics of the State Crime Records Bureau (SCRB), the number of children who died by suicide during the lockdown period from March 25 to July 10 in 2020 is 66. The number of child suicides in the corresponding period of the previous year is 83.

However, there is a larger point here. Although the figure is lesser this year in comparison to the previous year, the fact that so many children died by suicide while they were at home and under their parental/family’s care during the lockdown period is alarming. This goes against the popular notion that better parental presence and care are deterrents to children dying by suicide.

Statistics show that in 2014, 330 children died by suicide in the state, while in 2015, the number was 297, In 2016, it stood at 242.

It would be interesting to note that majority of the children — 74 percent — were staying with their biological parents when they died by suicide. This shows that parents could not identify or address the problems faced by children. Only nine percent of the children stayed with a single parent and four per cent of the children stayed with step-parents along with biological parent and another 5 per cent of the children stayed with grandparents and relatives.

Meanwhile, four percent of the children were alone at home when they died by suicide. This also beats the popular notion that children separated from parents are more prone to suicidal thoughts, according to the committee.

An important point to be noted is that the majority (108) of the children who died by suicide were in the age group of fifteen to eighteen years. Among these, 66 percent were girls. Forty-nine children in the age group of nine to fourteen years killed self and among these, 30 of them are boys. Only one child of the age of nine has killed self.

In total, more than half of the children who died by suicide are girls (57%) and district wise Malappuram has the maximum number 22, closely followed by Thiruvananthapuram with 21.

Here come two paradoxes. In the case of adult suicides, Malappuram has the lowest percentage in districts, and men account for 70 percent of the suicide cases across the state. “There may be reasons which prevent suicide in adults in Malappuram may not applicable to children. There can be reasons unknown to us also which should be unearthed in a detailed study considering the progress made by the district in recent times,” said Dr CJ John, a veteran psychiatrist.

“The number of girls in these statistics is high compared to women in general due to their vulnerability. There may be many reasons affecting the girls of this age group while boys may be in a better position to manage those issues,” he said.

The number of boys who died by suicide is 68 (43%) and compared to other districts, it was found that a higher number of boys committed suicide in Thiruvananthapuram and Malappuram.

While analysing the possible factors associated with suicides, in four cases, it wa noticed that children died by suicide because of a wrangle with siblings, and in 19 cases, it was because parents scolded them. The other attributed reasons, which may appear trivial, included demands for a bicycle, TV remote or parents appearing to give more preference to sister/brother, overuse of mobile phone, etc. Twelve children died by suicide due to mobile game addiction/excess usage of mobile phones and 14 children killed themselves over love affairs. Among 157 cases, 24 children had mental health issues and 11 of them were under medication.

The reason for suicide is ‘unknown’ in 41 cases, and it is an alarming trend.

“This number is big as it amounts to 26 percent of the reason. It will be more if we add those 13 cases which are labeled as ‘ other reasons.’ A study to find causes of suicide should not leave it behind. It should be examined closely. In fact, it is not proper to label single reasons for suicides as in a police file an FIR as suicide is a multifactorial malady, ” said Dr John.

It is seen that close family members of 26 children have died by suicide. This shows that the trend of suicide runs in the families and the children could have been exposed to it from a young age, says the report.

A majority, 83 percent of the children are from nuclear families, while six percent of children are from broken families, but what is a broken family may not have been defined or even concealed by the respondents, the committee said.

This news piece may be triggering. If you or someone you know needs help, call any of these helplines: Aasra (Mumbai) 022-27546669, Sneha (Chennai) 044-24640050, Sumaitri (Delhi) 011-23389090, Cooj (Goa) 0832- 2252525, Jeevan (Jamshedpur) 065-76453841, Pratheeksha (Kochi) 048-42448830, Maithri (Kochi) 0484-2540530, Roshni (Hyderabad) 040-66202000, Lifeline 033-64643267 (Kolkata)

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