Sri Lanka’s rivals tackle child trauma
Sunday, 9 February, 2003, 13:30 GMT

Frances Harrison
BBC correspondent in Colombo

The Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tiger rebels have formed a special committee to look at the problems of women and children.
It will pay particular attention to, psychological trauma caused by the civil war.
” I saw people without legs and there was blood and dead bodies everywhere ” Traumatised girl

The country’s peace process so far has concentrated on rebuilding houses and returning refugees home but it is becoming apparent that peoples’ emotional lives need rebuilding too.

After two decades of conflict, trauma is widespread, especially among children, many of whom have experienced the violence first hand.
Imaginary shells

During a session of play therapy, traumatised children recreate the sound of war. Interestingly many of the girls immediately put their hands over their ears so they can not hear the imaginary sound of shells exploding.

They wail and fall on the ground and then finally dissolve in giggles.
But the teacher quickly brings them back to reality with a song about the sorrows of displacement – something every child here knows.

In an art therapy class, seven year-old Subash explains his painting. It is a house which has been bombed, the army shooting, planes and a mother with a child missing a foot and a hand. Subash says he painted this because in real life he saw his sister and his cousin playing on a swing when a shell blew them to pieces.


Intriguingly, in his picture he has the children injured rather than dead.

Father Damien is a priest and a psychiatrist trained to interpret the underlying message of the paintings.

He says they are exhibiting what is hidden in their subconscious.

He adds: “That is quite natural for children. Residual symptoms are invisibly hidden in their psyche – through this art therapy I would say.”

But some children need individual treatment like one 14 year-old who is severely traumatised and does not want her name used in case people ridicule her as mad.

She explains how she was coming back home from school when a shell landed.

“I saw people without legs and there was blood and dead bodies everywhere. Only after that I became like this,” she says.


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