Tracing of Sri Lanka’s missing children
UNICEF helps families trace their children after the war
Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka, March – Bamini and her family fled their home in Northern Sri Lanka in the midst of a raging conflict in May 2009. Displaced countless times, they hid in the jungles and dodged cross-fire in the hope that they would make it out alive.
“I had passed out and woke up to find that I was bleeding and on a boat in the middle of the sea” says the youth, who was recalling her experience of that time. “My mother was also injured and it looked like her leg was broken” she said.
The family along with Bamini’s 9 year old sister Tharshika and 7 year old Rynoyan finally made it across to safe land. “They rushed my mother to hospital as she was in a very serious condition” she said. Bamini and two younger siblings were then taken to a small camp, “They told us to stay there till our mother was better” she said. Several weeks lapsed and the three children did not get news of their mother Yogeswary. They were later taken to a children’s home and placed there.
Yogeswary got better and was finally discharged from hospital, “I did not know what had happened to my children, I was desperate to find out” she said. Yogeswary was then transported by the authorities to the Menik Farm Camp in Vavuniya and allowed to stay there along with 350,000 other displaced people. “I felt helpless” she said.
The mother of three soon learnt that a Family Tracing Unit (FTU) supported by UNICEF had been set up to trace missing children, “I immediately went there and asked for help”. The probation officers there told me to stay calm, that they would try to do their best” she said.
Two days later she got news, “The probation officers told me that my children had been found” she says relieved.
The children also received the much awaited news of their mother’s whereabouts. “The probation officer came to the orphanage and phoned my mother so we could talk” said Bamini. “I cried when I heard her voice… I could not say anything, we were so happy” she says.
The family has since been reunited and now resettled back in their home in Kilinochchi. With the loss of their father who died during the conflict in 2006, the children now live with their mother Yogeswary who cares and provides for their basic needs.
Following the end of the war in 2009, more than 2,400 families reported that their children were missing and filed tracing requests with the relevant authorities. Most of these children were said to have been between 16 and 18 years of age and half were believed to have been recruited as child combatants.
In response to these requests, UNICEF, in partnership with the Government of Sri Lanka, helped set up a Family Tracing Unit (FTU) in the northern province . With the generous support of the Japanese Government, , the FTU aims to help reunite families and provide psychosocial support for those who have lost their children during the final phase of war between with the Government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE).
The Family Tracing Unit currently has more than 700 missing children on its files, 148 of these cases have been matched and referred to the Department of Probation and Child Care Services for tracing, verification and reunification.