In Sri Lanka we provide children with education, protection and psychosocial support
Photo: Marcel van der Steen
Facts and figures
- Total population: 20.8 million
- Total population under 18: 6 million
- Children affected by conflict: 900,000
- Number of War Child projects in 2019: Four
- Number of local partner organisations: Three
- Total child participants: 6,478
- Total adult participants: 1,812
Sri Lanka is undergoing a process of recovery and transition following the bitter 26-year civil war between government forces and armed insurgents that came to an end in May 2009. The conflict saw more than 70,000 people lose their lives and some 800,000 people forced to flee their homes. Recriminations over abuses by both majority Sinhalese and the Tamil Tiger rebels continue to this day.
Significant steps towards constitutional reform and transitional justice have been taken by the government of President Sirisena over the past three years. A new constitution is being drafted to help promote national reconciliation efforts and July 2016 saw the government announce its aim for Sri Lanka to be completely demilitarised by 2018.
Sri Lanka is reaping the benefits of these moves towards stability. In 2019, it transitioned from a low-income country to a lower middle-income country - as classified by the World Bank. Despite this major step forward, problems still remain - particularly at a local level. Vital infrastructure such as schools and roads remain in disrepair. A series of natural disasters have caused further delays to the process of reconstruction.
Situation of Children
The legacy of the conflict has had a significant effect on children growing up in Sri Lanka. Large numbers of children in the north and east were displaced and lived for years in camps before returning to their original homes after the end of the war.
Today many families have been resettled but threats to the safety of children remain. Child protection structures are underdeveloped and children are vulnerable to a number of forms of abuse. Many are engaged in child labour and serve as heads of households - UNICEF estimates that some 10 per cent of Sri Lankan children are out of school and engaged in hard labour.
Sexual violence and abuse - particularly against girls and young women - is another significant issue. Recent figures from UNICEF show that three to five children experience violent behaviour or the risk of rape every day. Child marriage is also a concern - but an underreported one.
Children growing up without parents is another emerging issue. An estimated 15,000 children are currently in the national care system. Many of these children are abandoned by parents who migrate overseas in search of work.
Children receiving psychosocial support as part of TeamUp
Photo: Marcel van der Steen
What We Do
War Child is currently in the process of handing over our programmes in Sri Lanka to local partners. Instead of having a country office in Sri Lanka, we will identify and invest in new strategic partnerships in local civil society.
We have been active in Sri Lanka since 2010, working to promote child rights and support children living with the ongoing effects of the country’s civil war. Our projects provide education and psychosocial support and we work in partnership with both state agencies and local organisations across the country.
Our projects are also designed to help strengthen existing child protection systems - particularly in the Northern and Eastern provinces of the country - and promote children’s participation in the decision-making processes that shape their lives. These activities will continue - but will now be led by local organisations.
With the move to a middle-income country, funding for NGOs operating in Sri Lanka has become increasingly difficult. By handing over the baton to local and national actors, we hope to overcomes these challenges and ensure the ongoing sustainability of our interventions.
Strengthening Support Systems and Case Management Mechanisms
Initiative to set up improved prevention and reporting mechanisms to address the violence experienced by women and girls in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.
Realizing Rights and Expanding Opportunities
Project which aims to contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights and the strengthening of the national framework to safeguard children’s rights.
Project in the Eastern Province designed to promote and facilitate the ability of young people to participate in an advisory body which will shape the work of War Child and its partners - thereby making it more effective to their needs.
Rebuild the Community and Strengthen Mental Health Systems
Project to expand mental health resources for populations in need. The project will also explore opportunities for strategic partnerships with MHPSS systems in the north of Sri Lanka to understand the obstacles and constraints children face.
Voices of Children
A Safe Space to Learn
War Child operates ‘Safe Learning Spaces’ in the north and east of Sri Lanka where displaced children can access education and participate in activities designed to help them deal with their conflict-related experiences.
These spaces are sorely needed. Many children in Sri Lanka are engaged in informal, unskilled labour activities instead of realising their right to an education.
Nirmala is just one of the thousands to have attended activities in our Safe Learning Spaces. Nirmala lost her father in the war and grew up in the midst of fighting. “During the war, we often had to flee school,” she remembers.
“In the classroom, we had to hide under the tables. We saw bombs falling and heard shots being fired."
Nirmala took part in our psychosocial support intervention I DEAL, which is designed to help children rebuild their confidence and resilience. “Thanks to I DEAL, I have learned how to deal with my emotions,” she said. “I have learned how to deal with them. I get angry a lot but now I can better cope with that.”
Nirmala has now found a future career path. “I want to become a gym teacher,” she explains. “I want to help my friends and want us all to be happy. That's my prayer.”