According to Sri Lanka Minister of Child and Women Development Tissa Karalliyadda, about 49,000 widows in the province were affected by the civil war, 25,000 are under the age of 25 and at least 12,000 have three children or more.
Figures from the Eastern Provincial Council indicate that out 45,644 widows in the province, 5,054 lost their husbands in the war, 2,213 in Batticaloa, 1,743 in Trincomalee, and 1,098 in Ampara.
Sugala Kumari, coordinator of the Campaign for Free and Fair Election (CaFFE), knows all about the plight of these women because she worked on providing them with an identity card ahead of the recent elections.
Their situation is indeed a though one. Most of them are uneducated and have a hard time making ends meet because of the lack of a steady income.
In the province, 30 years of war have led to widespread poverty. Extended families cannot help widows because they too are often destitute.
Sugala Kumari blames the government for not doing much. Although it adopted an Eastern Province Reawakening Programme to improve living conditions for war widows and tsunami victims, results have been poor.
These women “only get some help from private organisations or earn some money from odd jobs, not enough to live on. Some have left for the Middle East to work as domestic workers, only to find themselves trapped because of their lack of education and their naiveté. Only a few earned something.”
In households run by widows, children, ranging from nine to 19 in age, are too often underfed and hungry.
Sugala said that during pre-election work many of these women did not have any identity papers because “they did not have enough money to go into town and pay for a picture. Many also did not realise the importance of having an official identity”.