By Eunice Ruth

In Sri Lanka, institutional care is the fate of many children who have been abandoned by their parents due to various reasons and at present, the economical crisis has led many more families to abandon their children at children’s homes and orphanages. According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), out of over 21,000 children in orphanages in Sri Lanka, one or both parents of over 19,000 of them are still alive. In most cases it is a family member who leaves the child at an orphanage, UNICEF says.

Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Probation and Childcare Services, H.W. Sudheera Nilanga Vithana stated that currently, there are 379 children’s homes in Sri Lanka including 44 Government established ones and voluntary organisations. Western Province has a large number of children in orphanages. According to the 2019 data from the Department of Social Welfare, Probation and Child Care Services, more than 10,600 children live in orphanages and are taken care of till they are 18 years old. All needs of children including education, clothes, food, and other essential needs are being fulfilled by the home.      

Standard Meal Pattern and Current Status

Meals provided for children should be balanced, nutritious and in proper quantities according to their age and health. Diet plans should be prepared according to age categories. A registry should be maintained to record foods and quantities provided on daily basis and the menu for the week should be displayed in a suitable place. Vegetables are required for at least three days and rice, coconut, sugar, flour, and spices required for at least a week should be available at any given time. Different menus should be prepared depending on the preference of the children. An additional meal should be prepared and given for schooling children to be taken to school. 

However, with the current price hikes in the country, many children’s homes have been affected financially where they have no proper food to provide for the children. Commenting on the impact of the current price hikes on children’s homes, most people said their plight is similar to all other poor people in the country; that they have also been affected severely where the children in orphanages are forced to survive on plain tea.

Many children’s homes do not even have sufficient basic facilities such as beds, clean water or adequate sanitation facilities. Amidst all, the current economic situation has hit children’s homes harder than we expected and sadly orphans are often ignored by the authorities.

Tikiri Sewana State Adoption Children’s Home

An official of the Tikiri Sewana State Adoption Children’s Home in Kandy noted that at present, they have around 52 children including children below 1-year-old. “When comparing food with the other essential needs of children, food plays a huge role in the growth of children and we need to focus on providing nutritious and healthy food for them. 

The prices of essential commodities such as milk powder, sugar, vegetables, gram, gas, and many others have increased rapidly in the recent past. With the current situation in the country, we are facing many shortages in buying needed items and providing food for the children at the home”. 

He further said that before the Covid-19 pandemic, they used to receive donations from various people and the donations reduced after the pandemic. “Even before recovering from that loss, the country forced us to face another major loss by reducing our donations. Earlier, we used to receive donations in both food and cash. But, we have not received food, medicines, or cash donations recently.  

“The Government supports us in a very small scale which is not enough. Even though we want to provide a full proper and healthy meal to our children, we are not in a position to do so and are managing to provide what we can without letting the children starve. 

“We don’t know what will happen in the future, but can assure you that we will provide all three meals a day for each and every child without affecting anyone,” he said.  

Sri Jinananda Children’s Home

Director of Sri Jinananda Children’s Home, Chandrani Perera Hettigoda noted that it has been 35 years since the orphanage was established and they are currently running it with 61 children including babies who are above two years. “We take care of all their needs including food. However, with the current situation, we find it difficult to manage the home with the required food.  

While commenting about the recent price hikes, she said that they are facing many difficulties in finding needed food items and are facing a shortage in almost everything. “Gas distribution has been reduced drastically in the past few days and we are given one or two gas cylinders. Though it is not enough, we are trying our maximum and managing to provide food for the children. Also, we don’t provide chicken and fish daily to the children due to the price increase, but still we provide each and every child with an egg with their daily food.     

Earlier, around Rs 33,000 was allocated for all three meals a day. At present, unfortunately, it has exceeded Rs 45,000. We need 30 kg of rice and 1 kg of milk powder to provide food and milk or tea to the children. Currently, we are buying chicken for Rs 900, dhal for Rs 475, and an egg for Rs 30 whereas we previously bought an egg for Rs 20 and Rs 22. Due to this, we are unable to provide and follow a fixed nutritious meal plan and now we provide food to make sure that the child is given healthy food. We hope that we will be forced to face a huge risk in the future if the country follows the same price hikes,” said Hettigoda.

Meanwhile, as a result of the country’s current situation, the donations we receive from outsiders have reduced drastically. Earlier, we used the cash donations to buy the essential needs for the children and we have spent some portion of the donation to give special meals for the children. However, everything has changed and now we are facing many difficulties in providing food for the children”. 

She further pointed out that the Government has not supported them even during the Covid-19 period and have still not received support in anyway. 

Shilpa Development Home

An official of Shilpa Development Home noted that the amount of food they purchase has been reduced drastically in the past few days and face many shortages in purchasing essential food items including rice, sugar, among others. “Previously, we used to buy and stock food items to use regularly. However, with the current situation, we are unable to do that and 

we purchase the needed items on daily basis. We balance our menus by using substitute food items to enrich the growth of the children. In addition, we greatly consider the nutrition and health of the children and decided to provide an egg on a daily basis to each and every child at the home.   

“Our children are suffering without milk or milk tea for the past one month and they have been given plain tea. However, we cannot do that to the babies and we try our maximum to get milk powder packets to feed them,” she said. 

“We have 23 children at our home and the Department of Social Welfare, Probation, and Child Care Services provides us with Rs 40 per child for three meals. However, earlier we have allocated Rs 10,000 to 12,000 for daily food expenses and now it has increased up to Rs 20,000” she further said.

Government Intervention  

Vithana further said Provincial Councils have the authority over the children’s homes and they have been advised to look after their needs. “We support the homes financially and also decisions regarding the children will be taken by the Department.  

“We understand the country’s current situation and are trying our maximum to fulfil the needs of children’s homes in the country. Last year, we increased money allocation for a single child to Rs 100. However, it has not been implemented till today and many homes in the country are not allocating Rs 100 for the child’s food expenses. However, we will try to provide the same soon with the support of Provincial Councils”.