Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Over 700 children reported missing since end of Sri Lanka's war

By Maryam Azwer | The Sunday Leader

A total of 707 children have to date been reported missing from the Northern Province since the end of the conflict.

Of the total, 374 of the children are boys, and 333 are girls. Thus far, 116 of the children reported missing have been traced.

Thirty one of these children have been reunited with their families, while reunification is in process for another 22. Another 63 names have found matches, and are currently undergoing verification and tracing.

These statistics were obtained via UNICEF, which sourced the data to the Family Tracing Unit of the Department of Probation and Childcare Services in the Northern Province.

A UNICEF report released on July 12 this year recorded a total of 676 cases of missing children.

The report also stated that 30 percent of children reported missing following the end of the war were reportedly last seen in Government-controlled areas, while 64 percent of the cases were attributed to LTTE recruitment.
“Reports suggest 64 per cent of those who have disappeared were recruited by the Tamil Tigers. Another 30 per cent were, reportedly, last seen in government-controlled areas,” said the UNICEF report, titled Hope and Uncertainty: the Vital Search for Missing Children in Northern Sri Lanka.
According to the report, the age analysis for children showed that the majority of them were aged between 16 and 18 years.

The opening lines of UNICEF’s July report said that: “One of the key child protection issues following the displacement of thousands of people in northern Sri Lanka in 2009 was that of separated children. During the last phase of the Sri Lankan conflict, a large number of children among the internally displaced people were lost or separated from their families. As a result, many displaced families were also filing tracing requests and reporting missing children to a number of the authorities at the district as well as at the national level.”

As a result of all these requests, steps were finally taken at the end of 2009 to trace and reunite children who had been separated from their families.
“The Provincial Department of Probation and Child Care Services in the Northern Province in collaboration with the Government Agent (GA), Vavuniya, and supported by UNICEF, established the Family Tracing and Reunification Unit on December 22, 2009,” said UNICEF Sri Lanka Representative, Reza Hossaini, in a statement to The Sunday Leader last week.

UNICEF’s previous report also detailed the methods employed in collecting information on these missing children: “The Family Tracing (FTR) unit established a telephone help line and employed data collection staff, who underwent training on how to handle calls and deal with visiting parents/relatives and on data information/collection and management. Information posters/ banners promoting this new service were distributed in the camps and to partners and agencies across other districts. Furthermore, photographs of children reported missing were published in local newspapers, leading to a few successful family reunifications and additional information on the possible whereabouts of children.”

The report also stated that: “active search for data has been made in children’s homes and hospitals on children who are alive, while very limited information has been sought from surrendee and detention centres, and on children who died in hospitals.”

The identification of missing children had not been completed at the time, said UNICEF, because many families may not have had access to information pertaining to this family tracing initiative. “The total number of missing children is unknown as many families are not aware of the ongoing government efforts,” UNICEF said in its the report.

However, UNICEF’s Sri Lanka Representative last week stated that, “UNICEF is working in partnership with the Government in order to scale-up and extend the family tracing service, which traces missing children, in all five districts of the north. Communities and families in conflict-affected areas want to rebuild their lives and resolving cases of missing children is an important part of the reconciliation process.

“Currently, the Family Tracing Unit, is based in Vavuniya. Requests from those seeking missing children can be submitted either in person at their office, or over the phone. Based on these requests, the staff at the unit visit hospitals, children’s homes, rehabilitation centres and prisons to find matches for the requests made. Those in need of psychosocial support are referred to relevant service providers,” said Reza Hossaini.

© The Sunday Island

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