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Communities come together to protect children after civil war

Plan International Sri Lanka is committed to ensuring that all children are safe and protected from all forms of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence. We are achieving this by reinforcing family and community responsibilities to safeguard their own children and enabling children to protect themselves. We form powerful partnerships with child protection professionals and institutions at divisional, district, provincial and national levels, to bring about long-lasting institutional change for the benefit of all children.

We also work shoulder to shoulder with communities to establish village level child protection committees, build up teams of volunteers in child protection, and build the capacities of child protection authorities to ensure the protection of children. Using our decades of experience and community trust in our three programme areas, this project has been rolled out in 39 villages in the 4 divisions of Manmunai West, Manmunai South West, Eravur Pattu and Eravur Town.

Mahakumbukgollewa in Sri Lanka’s North Central Province is home to roughly 1,500 people –about 500 of them are children. For at least 1,500 years, people’s lives in this high village have been structured around an intricate agricultural system that relies on rain water stored in a network of reservoirs.

The need to access water from the reservoirs has created strong links between families, reflected in a close-knit society that traditionally protects children and women.

But the escalation of Sri Lanka’s civil war in the 1980s traumatised the villages of the North Central Province. The region was next to the war zone in the north and the intense fighting frequently spilled over the border, killing civilian men, women and children, and leaving survivors in shock.

When Plan International Sri Lanka first visited Mahakumbukgollewa, life in the village had been completely disrupted. Girls and boys of all ages were badly affected by the conflict, and our staff learnt that there was a high incidence of teenage marriages and pregnancies, with many children dropping out of school.

Boys were often forced to leave school for low-paid work making bricks or labouring. Many farmers were forced to abandon their lands, and many women became widows when their husbands were killed in the fighting. Some children lost both of their parents, and lots of girls and boys became especially vulnerable to sexual violence.

Chandra, a 48 year old mother with two children, is a volunteer in her local Child Protection Committee, set up by Plan International. She and other community members sought help from Plan International to deal with the problems of treatment and protection of children in the village.

“We raised the issue of children being vulnerable to harm in different ways, especially sexual violence, teenage marriages and pregnancies,” she says.

Mahakumbukgollewa is now one of 27 government divisions out of 40 in the region where we are helping communities like Chandra’s develop ways to protect children from harm.

We enable community volunteers, community group leaders, school teachers and youth representatives to access training, and we have supported them to develop educational tools to raise community understanding of child protection, including support for vulnerable children and reporting processes.

Plan International’s approach has been to put each community at the forefront of its local efforts, since those communities understand, and want, the responsibility of protecting their children.

Community volunteers learn and share experiences on child protection
Community volunteers learn and share experiences on child protection