nprecedented ferocity of the Meeriyabedda landslide buried many alive whilst razing a large number of houses in one of the worst ever natural disasters to hit Sri Lanka after the Tsunami. Rescue effort currently underway is making slow progress due to inclement weather that hampers ongoing work. One of the heartbreaking aspects of the colossal human tragedy that ensued is the heartrending story of nearly 75 children becoming orphaned by the sheer magnitude of the act of nature, which radically changed their destiny in a flash, making them destitute instantly with the dreaded prospect of having to face an uncertain future, without the love, support and protective care of their beloved parents. Innocent school going children would never ever have imagined that such a cruel fate would befall them in the morning of that fateful day. Nobody could make a guess as to what the future holds for them.
In this country children face many difficulties and are often subjected to untold hardships. Instances of children suffering physical abuse at the hands of villains are many. On several occasions, school van drivers have been apprehended for molesting innocent children to satisfy sadistic desires. Not to be outdone there had also been many cases of school teachers behaving as paedophiles. Also reported were the cases of children being kidnapped for ransom while there had been some sensational cases of such kidnapped children facing cruel death at the hands of heartless barbarians. It is well known that children are exploited for child labour, considered a less costly source of manpower, by unscrupulous businessmen and also as domestics to attend to household chores. Many cases of child abuse and ill-treatment go unnoticed and unreported whilst voiceless innocent ones are compelled to go through unbearable hardships, and suffer in silence having to do lengthy hours of heavy manual work, have inadequate sleep and deprived of a square meal.
Children are led astray by failed marriages of parents. Some end up as school drop outs due to pitiful circumstances associated with the state of social deprivation experienced by their families. Many children become easy prey to drug peddlers, sexual perverts as well as unscrupulous evildoers and end up being exploited for obscene pornographic material. Worst of all some unfortunate children also suffer physical abuse as well as psychological trauma at the hands of none other than their cruel parents and relatives.
There are many established governmental as well as non-governmental agencies such as the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs, the Department of Probation and Child Care Services, National Child Protection Authority, the Sri Lanka Child Protection Foundation, the Family Help Programme, the Friends International and Future for Children established to work for welfare and well-being of children, although the lot of many hapless children in this country leaves much to be desired.
In this context it is of paramount importance that expeditious measures are initiated on a priority basis to ensure that innocent, parentless and utterly helpless young ones affected by the ferocious landslide do not fall prey to merciless and unscrupulous elements posing in various guises, on the pretext of coming forward to extend kind helping hands to provide shelter, care and everything else while mainly eyeing on grabbing them with sinister motives. There are rackets involving trafficking of children for exploitation, which is one of the worst forms of human rights violations prevailing today. The fate of these innocent children without any protection whatsoever should not be left in the hands officialdom alone, which on many occasions has proven to be lethargic, inadequate or indifferent to human needs.
Although wider publicity was given to the fact that the plight of the orphaned children received immediate and direct attention of the Head of State, it is important that strict follow-up mechanisms are put in place to monitor on a day to day basis the efficacy of measures put in place to ensure their well-being by the state agencies responsible for child welfare, such as housing them in safe custody, feeding them regularly and providing them with required health care as well as therapeutic assistance and counselling to help them overcome psychological trauma and excruciating pain they are going through at present. There is
certainly a constructive role that the religious dignitaries could play in this humanitarian endeavour to look after the welfare of these innocent young ones, most of whom are yet to realize and come to terms with the lifelong predicament they are bound to face.
With a mega election round the corner many in the political firmament will be aiming at scoring brownie points. Sympathisers, well-wishers, politicos and the kith and kin of these children will go to great lengths to do all that is possible under the present circumstances to make the lives of innocent ones as comfortable as possible. Everything will be tickety boo so long as the victims of the Merriyabedda calamity serve as a hot source of political mileage. However reality will take over once the dust settles and the entire saga would naturally be water under the bridge.
It is only then that the helpless children will experience the rude awakening and realize the gravity of the catastrophe that has befallen them having to face the vicissitudes of life without support, affection and care of parents. Warmth, compassion, concern and enthusiasm fervently shown by many people towards the destitute children in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe are bound to subside with the passage of time. There are many such heartbreaking tales involving innocent ones who had to face cruel destinies fading in to oblivion. People hardly talk about the untold misery endured by tsunami victims who have lost their kith and kin, parents and sole breadwinners anymore, although many such helpless ones may still be struggling to come to terms with the unprecedented disaster that struck on that fateful day, making calamitous changes in their lives.
Unless proper measures are initiated under strict supervision of an oversight mechanism, woes of these children would end up as elegant themes of annual commemorative events where copious lip service would be paid for child welfare by many who relish and thrive on limelight derived from social issues. Issues faced by landslide victims particularly the orphaned children deserve, well thought out action programmes based on an objective assessment of true needs. With regard to children their needs should encompass among other things, social, healthcare, cultural, educational, recreational, emotional, counselling and guidance.
At this hour of need, it is vital that an apolitical approach is taken to address the boundless woes faced by crisis-ridden people with greater focus on the predicament of parentless children to ensure that their predicament would not become another human tragedy that will also be consigned to oblivion in time to come.