Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Military presence in Sri Lanka traumatic for children: UN

Presented by Sen Lam | Radio Australia

Three years after the end of Sri Lanka's civil war, child advocates say the ongoing heavy military presence in the former conflict zones, especially the north, continues to traumatise children.

Sri Lanka's military defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels three years ago, and the UN children's agency UNICEF has described as 'remarkable' the progress made in child health and education.

But the UN also pointed out the continued military presence in Sri Lanka's north.

Three rehabilitation centres have been operating since 2008, to provide education, psychological support for former rebel child soldiers and to reunite them with their families.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Menaka Kalyaneratne, director for advocacy for Save The Children in Sri Lanka

Kalyaneratne: I think almost all the children who were in rehabilitation are now released and there has been no convictions of these children, so that's a very good thing. And I think the rehabilitation process also took some time and I thnk UNICEF was very much involved in this process but Save the Children was not (involved) at this stage. So it's a bit difficult for me to talk about this centre-based rehabilitation because we were not involved at that part. But it's the separate centres where rehabilitation centres were established for girl children and boy children, where they'd go through a process of rehabilitation, and then they're reunited with their families. I mean, that's how the process worked.

LAM: Well, it has been three years since the civil war ended. Do you think children's welfare has improved dramatically, particularly in the former war zones in the north?

Kalyaneratne: I wouldn't say that it has improved dramatically, because we still work in the north, and we do see things which really need urgent attention. For example, there're lots of women-headed households, where the father has died and the mother has to take care of the children. And we have to take into account that all these children and the women have been traumatised because they've witnessed a long-drawn war and also the final stages of the war, which was quite difficult for them to deal with. So in that situation, unless there's very clear and direct help, towards these families, the children are the ones who will suffer. So, in terms of psychological support, we still have not seen real good progress or real good interventions that have been allowed to take place in the north. There's a lot of infrastructure development in the north, including a school, for which Save the Children, we are playing a big role. And this takes time, in terms of .. we can rehabilitate schools and renovations, but from the government side, there still needs a lot more in terms of human resources - the get the right teachers of that level, to be in these schools, so that the children will not miss out on their education.

LAM: Despite a largely-positive report, the UN also pointed out there continues to be a heavy military presence in Sri Lanka's north. What sort of impact does this have on the children in the north/

Kalyaneratne: I have personally, I mean, I do visit these areas and I do see camps along the main road, as well as smaller units inside the villages. And there are two things. I think there's still de-mining taking place, so there has to be involvement of the military as well, in addition to other, reputed organisations that are involved in de-mining. But for children who have lived in fear of war, seeing the presence of the military could affect them psychologically. On the one hand, that will have an impact on them, that the war is not over for them. For them to feel peace or an absence of war, that might kind of get in the way.

LAM: As you say, you are fairly familiar with the situation in the north, in the former war zones - what to your mind is the area of greatest need? What should be addressed urgently by the authorities for the sake of children's welfare?

Kalyaneratne: I think not only in the north, but I think something very alarming in the whole of this country, in a post-war situation is the violence against children, particularly child abuse, is on the rise. Last year alone, 20-thousand reports of child abuse were reported to the government, to the children's hotline. On an average, three children get abused daily in Sri Lanka. It think it's common in all areas, including the north. A huge number of reports are on sexual abuse, and also other forms of abuse like physical punishment and harming children, and also leading up to abductions of children for ransom, like kidnapping and even murder. The crimes are increasing, particularly against children.

And the other thing, particularly in the north, and this comes with our years of experience and sharing information with children, is that for them to have a sense of real peace, whenever we have asked them, they've said that they need to have education and facilities for education, just like the kind of facilities that children have in the south of the country.

So, greater focus is required for children in the north, to be resettled in their own villages and to receive an education, which will make sure that they have not lost everything, and they have an equal chance in life towards their future.

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