Why Sri Lanka?
In 1983, a particularly bitter and cruel war began. It was between the government of Sri Lanka ruled by a majority of Singhalese Buddhists and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a separatist organisation fighting for the creation of an independent state in the East and the North of the country. The conflict took place after the kidnapping of a group of young Tamil girls by Singhalese military whilst they were waiting for the school bus. These young girls were tortured, decapitated, raped and killed.
From July 1983, the acts of revolt and the pogroms (attacks, murders and looting against a specific population) increased. In 1985, negotiation attempts between the Tamil representatives and the government failed.
The conflicts intensified throughout the nineties and the country experienced an escalation in violence. After a brief post-Tsunami truce, the hostilities resumed until 2009 when the LTTE were forced to accept defeat.
After three decades of civil war, efforts at rehabilitation were undertaken just after most war refugees were able to reach their homes.
Unfortunately, injustice and discrimination towards the Tamils persisted. The rehabilitation in the North and East is mainly esthetic: Rebuilding roads, public buildings, etc. However the Tamil population continues to suffer from the stigmas of war. And much like in every conflict, the first to pay the price are the women and children.
Help who? The ex-combatants and other victims of war
1. Ex-combatants and more particularly former child soldiers
During the civil war which particularly affected the north of Sri Lanka, thousands of Tamil children (generally between 13 and 18 years old) were recruited by force or ‘’Voluntarily’’ to fight aside the Tamil Tigers. They all lived through traumatising experiences: bombings, shootings, explosions, torture, brutalisation, executions, rape and anti-personnel mines.
- forced recruitment vs ‘’voluntary’’ enrolling of child soldiers
During the war, families were deprived of any form of income, access to education and to healthcare as well as food, which encouraged children to join the LTTE. Some children were even happy to be able defend the civil rights of their community, leaving their caste at the same time and in the case of women and young girls their ‘’inferior’’ condition as women.
In contrast, since the beginning of the war, children have been recruited by force to carry out small ad hoc tasks. Near the end of the war, seeing their defeat approach and the number of combatants decrease, the organisation was obliged to reform their ranks with children and adolescents. The only way to avoid forced enrolment for young girls: Arranged marriage, as married women are meant to look after their homes.
- psychosocial problems and limited means of support
After 2009, while for the rest of the country the war was nothing but a bad memory, in the north the stigma that was left by it was still present. Especially for women: ex-combatants or widows, between 45,000 and 90,000 (the numbers differ significantly) became completely invisible. They face physical suffering (wounded by shells, amputation, etc.) psychological issues (linked to war suffering and the loss of loved ones) and social exclusion. For a long time, they feared being killed or tortured for having belonged to a rebel group. Today, they must work to provide for their family’s needs. However, working marginalises them, as they were used to domestic duties. Not only do they have to face government forces but also Tamil Conservatism.
2. Women-headed families
Traditionally, in Sri Lankan society, the woman’s role is to take care of household chores while the husband earns enough to provide for the family’s needs. The latter are supposed to possess the necessary qualities and education to carry this out, whilst the women are expected to remain on the side-lines. Once the war began, men were inevitably the first to be called to the front lines, leaving behind the women and children without any financial support. For the first time, there were over 40,000 women that became heads of their families, in the North of the country alone. 50% of them were under 40; statistics show to what extent the situation of women and children is critical.
Among these women, there were:
- war widows
- abandoned women
- women whose husbands or children disappeared (search for missing family members)
- women whose husbands were handicapped after the war
- and obviously the ex-combatant women and child soldiers (see point A).
3. IDP's (Internallu displaced persons) : the repatriated, the displaced, people living in camps.
Between 2009 and 2017, over 430,000* Sri Lankans returned to their original district. 9,000 of them returned to former conflict zones in the north where t
he war had swept away everything in its path, where certain territories where still being run by armed forces
Some managed to rebuild a life through their own means. Most of them had to request help from civil society (local and international organizations).
4. children and young people
The local partner and its 3 programmes
CFCD – Centre For Child Development – is a non-government organization working in Jaffna since 1997. These programmes are implemented in the districts of Jaffna and Mullaitivu. Its mission: to make the women and children, victims of war, more independent in the post-war zone of the North of Sri Lanka and endeavour to offer a more stable environment to them whilst securing equal opportunities for education.