Global perspective Human stories

Sri Lanka: UNICEF helps children displaced by escalating conflict

Sri Lanka: UNICEF helps children displaced by escalating conflict

Despite the insecurity in parts of Sri Lanka torn by conflict, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is working to help the youngest victims of the violence who are increasingly deprived of adequate food, sanitation and education.

The escalating clashes between Government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or Tamil Tigers, is affecting 3 million people, including over 500,000 who have fled their homes, according to UNICEF.

The agency is supporting a range of activities to alleviate the conflict’s psychosocial impact on children. “We’ve got animators and young people working together with these children and teaching them about mine awareness, but also doing theatre and just play activities,” said UNICEF’s Chief of Field Coordination in Sri Lanka, Natascha Paddison.

“They’re just trying to get a sense of normalcy to the youngsters, which is very important.”

Despite UNICEF’s best efforts, the impact of the violence on children and families is enormous, with malnutrition rates rising, a lack of access to education and adequate water and sanitation facilities, and recruitment of child soldiers into rebel factions. The psychological effects cannot be underestimated, Ms. Paddison noted.

She said in the conflict-torn areas, children who are asked about the future “don’t say what they want to be, but what they want to have – which is peace. They all say they want the shelling to stop. They want peace.”

The situation in Sri Lanka poses many challenges, as multiple players enter the conflict and it become increasingly militarized, said UNICEF, which is working to provide children and families with services.