CHEDDIKULAM, Sri Lanka (UCAN) — As Tamil people languish in refugee camps after the end of the civil war, widows and children appear to be the ones hardest hit by the situation.
Children in a refugee camp in Cheddikulam
One Tamil widow who spoke to UCA News on the condition of anonymity said that her greatest concern is sexual violence against young women such as her 17-year-old daughter. The death of her husband last year has left her with three children at the age of 39.
In an effort to protect her daughter, she arranged for a marriage partner.
Her story is common and similar fears for their daughters have forced parents to take similar steps.
Widows, whose relatives are in different camps, are often left without family support. They are then left to fend for themselves and try to provide an education as well as moral guidance to their children, many of them teenagers.
“Many men were killed in war and now their widows have to take care of themselves and provide for their children’s future,” says Father Paul Jeyanthan Pachchek, director of the Oblate Social Service (OSS)in Mannar diocese, which is helping these women and their children. OSS was formed on May 22, four days after the end of civil war, by 14 Oblate priests in Mannar diocese.
The OSS provides supplementary food and clothes as well as necessities such as cooking utensils and nursery items. It is also providing school textbooks and pocket money for children.
The widows are also hungry for their spiritual needs to be met. “Rosaries and prayer books are in demand,” said Oblate Father Celestine Mascringe, the parish priest of St. Anthony’s church in Cheddikulam.
So far, OSS has helped more than 700 widows in Kathirgamar camp, in Cheddikulam.
Father Pachchek notes that “employment and long-term security is only possible for the teenagers if they are released from camps.” Like all Church aid workers, he has limited access to people in the camps. The government argues that it must ban aid agencies, media, right groups and even opposition parliamentarians from the camps as screening for Tamil rebels is not complete.
OSS is also preparing to provide sewing machines, cattle, farming equipment and dried food for those who are to be resettled in their villages, said Father Mascringe.
The Ministry of Disaster Relief Services estimates that there are 7,894 widows in 30 camps and 57,293 children, of which 1,034 are orphans. On top of that there are 3,100 expecting mothers, most under the age of 18, according to the ministry.