I sit down at work to receive a text message from mum.
‘Happy Children’s Day, darling.’
I smile and think to myself that she’s adorable. Check Twitter a few minutes later to see someone’s started #IAmALankanKid, and everyone’s on a nostalgic trip with their recollections of games and aunty-antics from their kiddie days.
I smile again, thinking to myself that this is nice, how everyone’s sharing these happy memories.
But that’s where it stopped.
The latest update on the case of Seya is on every news outlet. With that comes details of the truly horrendous last hours she endured and the shock that is carried with her death. Seya brings about memories of every other young child who has ever met an untimely end. Or every child forced out of childhood to feed the needs – and often greed – of people they shouldn’t have to support at their age.
And more sad stories.
Apologies if this puts a damper on the light-hearted Children’s Day wishes floating about but maybe it’s time we stopped to take stock and think of how some children in Sri Lanka will ‘celebrate’ today.
If they even do.
To most – and I say this because those blessed enough to be joyous and satisfied for their needs today constitutes of a minority is this country – today is just another day.
Your wishes ring empty to the child who hasn’t had food to eat today, or to the one who watches other children dressed up in uniform and wishes she could carry a backpack and go to school one day too. Either by their parents or the state’s choice, the child is denied an education – too poor, too starved of resources, too insignificant a town for a teacher to properly ‘teach’ the students assigned to her.
The young girl married off just when she began to feel alive as a person, because ‘that’s how it’s done’ in her culture. A mother before she knows it, raising another human before she has the chance to even find herself.
The young boy replacing his father, being the man he didn’t get the chance to because he died in the conflict – battlefield or civilian/army or rebel is immaterial. We have a generation growing up scared, broken and still scarred by the sights and sounds of war.
What happiness then for the girl who cries herself to sleep after her father/grandfather/uncle has finished with her for the night, tying up his sarong and smirking to himself, satisfied with this substitute for his wife who has gone abroad to earn and support them. Her ‘support’ will buy him another bottle of arrack, which he will gulp as his daughter watches in quiet torment; hoping for the best but knowing too well that she should expect the worst.
No jubilation for the young girl forced to stay at home and keep house – not play house as girls her age are supposed to – or for the young boy selling flowers from the roadside, hoping that you’ll buy something from so he may avoid his father’s anger. Working day and night to clean something, make something, dig up something just so that his family might have one more meal when he should be out there flying kites, playing cricket and screaming at the top of his lungs in happiness, not when he is beaten for his shortcomings.
What will you tell the young boy, wandering the popular beach that is crawling with tourists, drawing too many stares and seemingly ‘warm’ smiles from the foreign men sunbathing on the beach? Does he know or anticipate that later that night, his father will pull him from the house to meet the very same man on the beach and to be greeted with something more painful than just his smile? The saddest part of all this is that it’s probably the latter; that he has come to expect this after days, weeks, months of enduring it in silence so loud that he can block it out while it happens and sit up to move on with his life.
What do you say to the boy whose fingers have grown accustomed to the cold metal of a gun long before he felt comfortable with a pencil or the hand of the person he loved, who thirsted for the blood of the brother whose hand he should have been holding? The young girls who devoted their lives, misguided and misinformed, to cause that cost them their lives, a life they could have lived as a celebration of their passions, turning their stolen dreams into reality.
There are children in Sri Lanka who are more ‘adult’ than real adults, who’ve seen loss and suffering that eyes that young should ideally be closed from. And in most cases, it’s the real adults doing the damage.
This is all real and true to our country, I have not made anything up.
Children are raped and the culprits walk free. Children sacrifice their education so that their family can eat. Children are married off as soon as they reach their late teens, in the fashion of communities that blur the line between culture and religion. Children carry the scars of war – emotional and physical – having been forced to fight in it or watch from their hiding places as their worlds began to burn. Children bear the brunt of their parents’ greed, seen as more of an income source than a precious gift.
Happy Children’s Day?
These words are not to dishearten you against celebrating your own child for what they’re worth but to maybe paint for you a picture that shows you just how precious they are. That shows you that, unfortunately, not everyone treats their children the way you do yours. If these stories disturbed you in anyway, then you know that you would never want your child – or any child – to ever suffer this trauma.
I’ve seen a father’s joy at his daughter’s marriage matched in intensity with a mother’s agony as she sat by her son’s coffin; only love so great can result in a pain of that magnitude. Think then, if your heart bursts with love for your precious would it not break if the same thing, or something as painful, were to happen to them?
They are not ‘employees’, that you can force them to sacrifice their futures for your present. And if you counter with the fact that parents are allowed to make decisions for their children, make decisions that will make them into powerful human beings, not break them into fragments till they’re barely recognisable as people.
They are not powerless – the child continuously being slapped by their drunk parent could be the one in whose mind is an idea that could change the world. You make them powerless, by beating their body you run the risk of breaking their spirit.
They are wonderful – the light in a happy child’s eyes is eclipsed by nothing. The darkness the world inflicts will dull that light to the point that it will never come back and that’s a loss to all those around him or her.
For many reasons, not all children will live ‘equal lives’ – race, gender, economic status are tough-enough chains before abuse, trauma and labour come into the picture. Don’t be the one who puts those chains on them and don’t be the one sitting by as someone else does it.
I had the idea for this running through my head for a while but it was this post by a dear friend that spurred me on to sit down and write it – it gives me hope that there are others out there who see this side of the story.