By P. Krishnaswamy
The most tragic aspect of the LTTE’s long drawn out terrorism was that it had rendered thousands of budding, innocent children fatherless, motherless and homeless, reducing them to utter destitution with nowhere to go. According to reports of the Department of Probation and Child Care Services (DPCCS),the largest number of such children were recorded in the worst-terrorism-ravaged Northern province where the entire population remained displaced for years together, either confined to refugee camps or moving to and living in other Southern provinces.
The security forces, after defeating the LTTE in May 2009, found children in various illegal homes run by the LTTE, including in the “Chencholai” home.
The LTTE, while fleeing, had abandoned the children. Consequently the DPCCS and other government authorities took steps take care of the children and have them admitted either in state-run children’s homes or homes run by religious organisations.
The DPCCS Northern Province, with its head office in Jaffna, is under the purview of the Northern Provincial Council and is the key government department in the province with the mandate of protecting children who need care and protection. Prior to the final conflict the Department handled a fair number of cases in respect of children’s home admissions, child abuse, child offenders and so on.
The number of cases drastically increased since the final battle and the cases in the post-conflict period were highly-complicated, time consuming and required high technical skills for the probation officers to handle the cases in the prevailing sensitive environment.
The mission of the Probation Department is to provide equal opportunities to the destitute children, victims of abuse and children in conflict with the law, while promoting and preserving their rights and also helping in the implementation and enforcement of national policies. The ultimate objective is to protect and support and help in the maintenance of the affected children, DPCCS sources said.
The responsibility of protecting the children from sex perverts, other kinds of exploiters and mischievous propaganda as well as facing court cases and closely monitoring every administration of the homes rests with the DPCCS, according to authoritative sources.
The functions of the Department include monitoring and regulating Children’s Homes, admission of destitute children to Children’s Homes, extending support for the due functioning of Day Care Centers, reunification of children with their own or extended families, processing and providing “Fit Person Orders’ through the court, adoption of children with appropriate families through the court, family tracing and reunification of children separated from families, coordination of all child protection stake holders and other activities such as advocating for the best interest of the children, the sources said.
The orphaned children are housed in Voluntary Children’s Homes (VCH) and in state-run homes. Of the VCH there are many that have not been registered and the Probation Department which had been persuading for the registration of the unregistered homes had closed down some of them after evaluation and had clustered some with others.
At the beginning of 2011, there were a total of 54 registered children’s homes in the Northern province with a total of 2,125 children (838 male children and 1,287 female children). The district-wise break up is 27 in Jaffna, six in Kilinochchi, six in Mullaitivu, five in Vavuniya and 10 in Mannar. The number of unregistered Children’s Homes in the province were 26 housing a total of 812 children (228 female children and 584 male children). The number of registered and unregistered homes together were 80, housing a total of 2,937 children.
The number of homes in the five districts of the Northern province and the number of children in them have declined by 40 percent with a considerable number of the children having been reunited with their families, extended families or other relatives through the hard and persistent efforts of the officials of the Probation Department officials, according to Northern Province Commissioner for Probation and Child Care and Services Thangavadivel Uma.
Every case of reunification with the family or others have to go through the usual judicial process. The number of children’s homes in the Vavuniya district is 16 with a total of 170 boys and 380 girls housed in them.
The number of homes in the Jaffna district is 29 with 348 boys and 776 girls housed in them.The number of homes in the Mullaitivu district is four with 86 boys and 112 girls, the number of homes in the Kilinochchi district is six and the number in the Mannar district is seven with 112 boys and 168 girls housed in them. According to a survey,18 percent of the children are orphans who neither have their mother nor father, 15 percent belong to the category” parental status is not known”, 14 percent have only the father, 23 percent have only the mother and 30 percent have both parents.
The reason why the parental status of the 15 percent children is not known or to be established is because a majority of them were in children’s homes then run by the LTTE who had admitted very small children who knew nothing about their parents or relatives.
About seven percent of the children belong to the under six age group, 18 percent belong to the 6-10 age group, 44 percent belong to the 11 – 16 age group, 18 percent belong to the 16 – 18 age group and 13 percent belong to the above 18 age group. Some of the women in the age group of 40 – 55 presently engaged by the children’s home administrations to look after the children are unmarried and were engaged for similar services by the LTTE in their children’s homes such as the ‘Chencholai’. All children of school-going age are attending schools and private-tuitions are also being provided by benevolent teachers employed in government schools. Some homes run by religious institutions had given girls in marriage marriage to suitable partners with their consent.
This was done under proper legal procedures because they had reached marriage age and had nowhere to go. children’s home sources said. Divisional level committees are already in operation to monitor the administrative functions and childcare in the children’s homes and the provincial administration is to appoint also village level committees for similar functions, Commissioner Uma said.
The UNICEF and INGOs such as the Save The Children are also providing services which include awareness programs, she said. She and the officers of her department undertake periodical visits to the children’s homes.
Although their responsibility is only in respect of children below 18 they, in an effort not to abandon the children above that age, undertake measures to provide them assistance for higher education, employment opportunities, vocational training and social integration, she said. Adoptions of children have to go through the usual judicial procedures and determined on ascertaining the antecedents of the families concerned and their financial status, she said.
Regulations will also be formulated to give girls of marriageable age in marriage through proper legal procedures, she said. Periodical visits by medical officers to the homes and counselling to the children where necessary are also part of the program of the Department, she said.
The purported recent abduction of 16 girls from a children’s home in Kaithady, Jaffna and their alleged sexual abuse which received much publicity was proved in court as baseless and false. The children fled the home due to disagreement with the administration and, with court orders, they have been admitted to another children’s home, she said.