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Children trapped in Sri Lanka’s conflict

Sennappu had a split second, a moment. Literally a heartbeat to throw her body around her 18month-old daughter before the bomb landed. Her reactions were enough time to save the life of her baby girl. Sennappu was killed instantly.

As Sri Lanka’s conflict has grown in intensity, so too have the number of civilians injured and killed. UNICEF has consistently called upon the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE (the rebel group known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) to give absolute priority to the protection of civilians. And yet mothers like Sennappu continue to die. As do children.
The main causes of death and injury to children have been shrapnel and bullet wounds, burns and fractures. Some have been evacuated and taken to hospitals out of the war zone which are overflowing, and that are desperately short of anesthetic and essential medicines.
In a statement released this week, UNICEF said it was extremely alarmed at the high number of children being injured in the fighting in the northern area of Sri Lanka known as the Vanni.

“Hundreds of children have been injured in the fighting and evacuated in the past week,” said Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF’s Representative in Sri Lanka. “Children are victims of this conflict by being killed, injured, recruited, displaced, separated and denied their every day needs due to the fighting. Instead of hope, fear defines their childhood.”
UNICEF was reiterating the call it has made time and again to Government and the LTTE that children must given every protection from the fighting, and be allowed to move to areas where they are safe and can receive appropriate assistance.
Thankfully, some have found safety. UNICEF is responding to the needs of 35,000 people who have been able to leave the Vanni and are now receiving humanitarian assistance away from the conflict. UNICEF’s emergency support for these children and their families includes tens of thousands of hygiene kits, emergency health kits, safe water, latrines and bathing facilities, nutritional supplies, and educational kits for all children. At the same time UNICEF is supplying hospitals who are treating the wounded children, and providing crucial psychosocial support and identification of separated and unaccompanied children and separated families.

Many of these children who UNICEF is now supporting have been displaced multiple times in the past 12 months, as they fled the fighting. Mrs Paskaran’s family was forced to abandon their homes and shelters nine times since January last year. “The fighting got closer and closer, and more and more people were dying,” she tells me. “My children saw their friends killed, they spent days and nights in bunkers, they were petrified. But we are out of there now.”

They are, though today tens of thousands of civilians remain in the Vanni, including a large number of children. They are being caught in the crossfire, experiencing serious shortages of food, medicine, and clean water. Many children have not been to school in almost a year. As a part of the Consolidated Humanitarian Appeal (CHAP), UNICEF is appealing for US$15million for a broad range of emergency support in water and sanitation, nutrition, education and protection.

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