The government is to issue application forms to all district and divisional secretariats, especially in the North and East for family members of those who have been reported missing during the war in order to obtain the Certificate of Absence.
Government Agent of the Mullaithivu District, Roopavathi Ketheeswaran said that the application forms would be available in the near future and the public would be able to obtain them from the respective divisional or district secretariat.
Certificate of Absence
The government in July passed a law for the issuance of ‘Certificate of Absence’ for those who have been reported missing.
Accordingly, the Act provides for the registration of persons who are reported missing as a result of the conflict which took place in the Northern and Eastern Provinces or its aftermath, or political unrest or enforced disappearances, or of members of the armed forces or Police identified as missing in action.
Local and international human rights activists and members of civil society have continuously urged the Sri Lankan Government to look into the issue of missing persons and cases of enforced disappearances.
Addressing the issues faced by the families of the missing persons has been, and continues to be a crucial part of the post-war reconciliation process.
These families have been affected in so many ways due to the absence of their loved ones. Many of them do not know the fate that had befallen them. They do not know whether they are in fact alive, imprisoned, or dead.
The Certificate of Absence is valid for two years. Thereafter, the District Registrar can either extend the period of the Certificate or ask the relative to apply for a Certificate of Death.
However, as time went on, these families have come to terms with the fact that they need to move on with their lives.
“It was difficult. But we had no choice but to move on with our lives for the betterment of my family, and my children,” said a young mother whose husband had gone missing during the war.
According to Ketheeswaran, the family members of those reported missing and have not been heard of for a period exceeding one year due to the reasons mentioned earlier can apply to register such person as ‘missing’ and to have issued to him a ‘Certificate of Absence’.
“The applications will be with the relevant local government officials in the North and East. The families have to give them to the Registrar General or the District Registrar,” she said.
This move would not only provide the families with some closure, but also would help them out in tackling several practical issues in terms of obtaining benefits and managing property and assets that belong to the person who is missing.
This issue has mainly affected the livelihoods of these families who have very limited resources despite the assistance received from the government.
Women headed households
Many of the families in the North that were affected by war are women-headed households. Most of those who are dead, missing, arrested and detained are males and therefore, their families are compelled to rely on the female to head their households.
Saroja Sivachandran, who heads the Jaffna-based Cenre for Women and Development said that the issue of missing persons had impacted the women in the North as many of them were dependent on their husbands, fathers, or male siblings to provide
“Even though this situation has compelled them to take matter into their own hands to look after their families, it is important that they are given special treatment,” she said.
She backed up her argument stating that the people in Wanni continued to face hardships due to lack of facilities, especially in the interior.
She pointed out that women had to travel miles to the nearest town along roads and byroads which are in bad conditions. “These women need to look after their families while working. Therefore, they need the required facilities to balance both work and family,” she added.
Another aspect that needs attention is the safety of young women who head their families due to the absence of their breadwinners.
Sivachandran pointed out that women in the Wanni are vulnerable to physical as well as psychological threats as they have to look after their families. “There have been instances where some young women have faced uncomfortable situations at workplaces. These need to stop if they are to focus on providing for their families,” she said.