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Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan children and families traumatized by continuing conflict

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2006/Mitani
Rukmary, 22, and her nine-month-old baby are displaced once again by the conflict in Sri Lanka.

By Junko Mitani

BATTICALOA, Sri Lanka, 13 September 2006 – At a relief camp in Batticaloa, eastern Sri Lanka, 14-year-old Sanjan recounted the ordeal he and his family had endured.

“We escaped from our village and went to a camp for displaced,” he said. “I got a small injury on my leg, but my mother was seriously injured on her arm. She is still at a hospital, and I am so worried about her.”

Like thousands of others, Sanjan’s family fled their home after months of renewed conflict between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Among the displaced population, nearly half are children.

“I was in the bunker when the shelling hit us,” recalled Thaatchaayina, 13, who shares the same camp with Sanjan. “We walked in the jungle for two weeks, with not much to eat or drink,” she said.

Dayasine, a 12-year-old girl, added: “On the way to come here, I saw bodies of children on the road. Some were very small children.”

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2006/Mitani
Sanjan, 14, and his little brother now live in a relief camp in Batticaloa, eastern Sri Lanka.

Helping children cope

To protect children from harm and exploitation, UNICEF and its partners in Sri Lanka are working to register all children who are separated from their parents. In addition, ‘child-friendly spaces’ are being created to provide younger children with a safe environment to play and meet new friends.

At the same time, UNICEF recreation kits and other supplies have been sent in to conflict areas, enabling children to play with toys and participate in positive activities such as drawing and sports.

UNICEF is also looking at ways to bring children back to school – the best way to help them cope with emotional stress. The organization supports mine-risk education to protect children from landmines and unexploded ordnance as well.

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2006/Mitani
Dayasine, 12, saw the bodies of small children on her way to a relief camp in Batticaloa.

Peace or further chaos?

For displaced children and families, life has become even more difficult since the monsoon season started in eastern Sri Lanka. In cooperation with local partners, UNICEF is working to provide the displaced with access to safe drinking water and to keep communicable diseases at bay.

Although the government and rebel forces have announced plans to resume peace talks, it is not clear at present whether Sri Lanka will move towards peace or further chaos. While continuing to provide humanitarian assistance, the international community is calling for a ceasefire and peace for the sake of Sri Lankan children.

“Fighting has continued for many years by now, and I was displaced several times,” said Rukmary, a 22-year-old mother with a nine-month-old baby. “I want Sri Lanka to be a peaceful country, so that my child can grow up safely.”



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