Monday, December 26, 2011

Endless Search for Endearing Children

"Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told: I'm with you kid. Let's go" ~ Maya Angelou, African American Poet, civil rights activist, dancer, film producer, television producer, playwright, film director, author, actress and professor (1928 ~ )

Tender Sprout” or செந்தளிர் (Senthalir) was located in the coastal area of Puthukkudiyiruppu in Mullaitivu district, North East of Sri Lanka. This home for the war orphans had 175 children when Tsunami hit, only 30 children survived. Later, they were relocated to a different place inland. Most of the children were affected by the Tsunami. Either they have lost their beloved brothers and sisters or struggled to survive. They couldn’t eat, sleep or play. The cherished memories of the loved ones kept bothering these children day and night. They were unable to forget the haunting past. The lost the loved ones stayed, ate, slept and played together. After experiencing the war and Tsunami, they used to get up in the night and scream. They had bad dreams: they had many sleepless nights.

Tender Sprout in Puthukkudiyiruppu in Mullaitivu district

I was putting cover for the new exercise books, and getting ready for the new school term, which was supposed to begin in early January 2005. I heard a noise and everybody started to run. I also ran and climbed on a tree. I saw my little sister under that tree. And later she was washed away. I witnessed it. But I never saw her body. I was told that, she died on the way to the hospital” said Susi Sinnathurai (15), who burst into tears while sharing her traumatic experience.

Susi Sinnathurai on Mullaithivu shore in 2005

Emotionally drained

There were more children, who did not know what has happened to their loved ones. These little children have already been affected by the ethnic conflict which lasted for nearly three decades.

Niranjana Balakrishnan (20) is one among many. She lost her parents in the conflict. She is the only child in the family. She stayed at the “Tender Sprout” pre ~ tsunami location in Mullaithivu coast on 26th December 2004. She was holding her three year old friend Arabi, but lost control and let her go with the wave. She carried Arabi's body from Mullaithivu to Mulliyawalai. Since then, she had nightmares about the Tsunami. Mullaitivu was one of the worst affected areas by Tsunami in Sri Lanka.

Niranjana Balakrishnan at Tender Sprout which was relocated twelve kilometers inland, in Udayakattu in 2005

The war began again after a short ceasefire period; people from Mullaithivu left their homes and moved for their safety. Nobody knows about these kids. The war was officially brought to an end in May 2009.

Missing and tracing

UNICEF in partnership with the Government of Sri Lanka has set up a Family Tracing Unit (FTU), which is based in Vavuniya, North of Sri Lanka. "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” states a UNICEF report.

A total of 707 children have to date been reported missing from the Northern Province since the end of the conflict (May 2009).Of the total, 374 of the children are boys, and 333 are girls. 116 of the children reported missing have been traced so far. Majority of them were aged 16 and 18 years.

31 of these children have been reunited with their families, while reunification is in process for another 22 children. Another 63 names have found matches, and are currently undergoing verification and tracing states a UNICEF report released on 12th July 2011.

64 per cent of those who have disappeared were recruited by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers). About 30 per cent were reportedly last seen in government ~ controlled areas according to the report by the UNICEF.

Children for "CHARITY"?

"Children affected by war are still a questionable issue. There is no actual data available to figure out the numbers. Soon after the war many children have been abducted or deliberately taken away by certain people to keep them for their household work. Further, some families have taken the children abandoned by their parents while fleeing from Mullivaaikkaal in Mullaithivu district. We do not know how these children were looked after in the welfare centres, because the NGOs did not have access to visit the camps during that period" says Saroja Sivachandran, Director, Centre for Women and Development, a Jaffna based non ~ profit organisation.

"I learned that many homes were established to keep these children just to give them a temporary relief. But these homes are neither registered nor meet the standards. These homes are maintained by individuals and funded by diaspora and local business people. Some of them wanted to run these homes to get relieved from the tax. We gave continuous pressure to the women's and children ministry to intervene into this matter. The children's unit took keen interest and wanted the probation officers to investigate and find out the real situation of these children's situation.In Jaffna Peninsula,31 such homes have been instructed to close down. Now these homes get children only through the courts and legal obligations are also met" further says Saroja Sivachandran.

I recall the sweet smiles and tears of the Tender Sprout children. I always visited “Tender Sprout” and played with the children during my many visits to Mullaithivu.

My eyes fill with tears uncontrollably and my heart toments .These children are in my daily prayers. Everyday, I wait to hear some good news about these cute children. But luck has not yet turned its way. Seven years have passed since the Tsunami hit the coastal belts of Sri Lanka, but my desperate search to locate these endearing children continues endlessly!


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