After many years of civil war, the tropical island of Sri Lanka is now trying to get back on track. Tens of thousands of Sri Lankans were internally displaced as a result of the war. SOS Children's Villages has been helping children and young people all over the country to create their own future in a peaceful and positive environment.
A country recovering from decades of conflict
Happy to have the opportunity to go to the SOS Children's Villages school (photo: D. Sansoni).
The Republic of Sri Lanka lies in the Indian Ocean. In the 14th century, a Tamil kingdom was established in Northern Sri Lanka. During the colonial period, Tamil labourers arrived in Sri Lanka to work on tea and coffee farms in the highlands, making the island a major tea producing nation. Sri Lanka was called "Ceylon" by the British and independence was achieved under the name "Dominion of Ceylon" in 1948. Ethnic tensions between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority eventually led to a long-lasting civil war, which erupted in the 1980s.
In 2002, after two decades of fighting, a cease fire was agreed upon and peace negotiations started. In 2009, violence between the Tamil Tigers and government forces finally came to an end. The war deeply affected the Sri Lankan population, particularly young children and adolescents. Tens of thousands of Sri Lankans are internally displaced as a result of the conflict. The 2004 tsunami left 40,000 dead and many more homeless. In 2011, hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans were displaced as a result of massive flooding in the country's east.
Families continue to struggle
Poverty figures in Sri Lanka have declined significantly over recent years: while in 2006 roughly 15 per cent of Sri Lankans were facing a life in poverty, the figure fell to 8.9 per cent in 2010. Thus within only four years, the number of poor people in the country had nearly halved. Improved living conditions in rural areas of Sri Lanka have particularly contributed to the unprecedented poverty reduction. As poverty levels decline, so does inequality in Sri Lanka: the Gini Index, an indicator of inequality levels in a country, shows that income is now distributed more equally than a few years ago. Nonetheless, many Sri Lankans still live in harsh socioeconomic conditions where they lack access to basic services. Nearly one in four Sri Lankans is undernourished. Fighting poverty and all its side effects, including child mortality, malnutrition and a lack of basic amenities, remains one of the top priorities of the government of Sri Lanka.
Children in need of protection and care
These two girls were homeless and did not go to school. Thanks to the SOS Family Strengthening, they now go to school and their mother has learnt new skills to support them all (photo: SOS archives).
Sri Lanka is a signee of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Nonetheless, the child rights situation in the country leaves a lot to be desired. An estimated 9,2 per cent of children aged five to 14 engage in child labour activities. Almost ten per cent of these children work in dangerous and unfavourable conditions such as in mines, with chemicals, pesticides or dangerous machinery. Child labour is a common phenomenon among poor families: children are sent to work to support their parents. Many of these children are not able to attend classes and never receive basic education. Boys in rural areas are particularly affected. The government has increased efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labour by 2016.
An estimated 340,000 children in Sri Lanka grow up without either one or both of their parents. Very often, poverty is cited as the main reason why children end up without parental care. Infants are often abandoned because poor mothers are not able to care for their child. The civil war that affected Sri Lanka for so many years did not spare the youngest segment of population: many young boys were recruited for combat in certain areas of the country. Another problem in Sri Lanka is the number of child headed households: many mothers who have to migrate to other areas of the country for work have young children who end up heading the household at an early age. Due to the absence of their mother, these children are vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation. Very often, they are not able to attend school.
The prevalence of underweight children under five years of age has declined noticeably and is now at 26 per cent. School enrolment figures have improved, showing that the number of children starting grade one is on the increase. Over recent years, child health has noticeably increased in Sri Lanka. However, the country's infant mortality rate is still up at 9 per 1,000 live births - more than twice as high as for Germany.
SOS Children's Villages in Sri Lanka
SOS Children's Villages is supporting Sri Lankan children and adolescents by providing day care, education, vocational training opportunities and medical services. In order to help Sri Lankan children who are at the brink of losing parental care to grow up within their natural family environment, SOS Children's Villages has been running SOS Family Strengthening Programmes. Children whose families cannot take care of them can find a loving home in one of the SOS families. After the 2004 tsunami, SOS Children's Villages immediately started an emergency relief programme. Family homes as well as social and educational facilities were re-constructed. When the brutal civil war ended, the organisation initiated an SOS Emergency Relief Programme in the northern regions in order to help those most affected by the violence.
Website of SOS Children's Villages Sri Lanka
(available in English)