War widows in the north are being forced to agree to sexual favours as they struggle to find jobs, the AFP news agency reported.
Widows left behind say they feel vulnerable, with reports of physical abuse by members of their community. Others are ostracised – considered bad luck by the conservative Hindu society.
“A war with weapons ended in 2009 but a new social conflict has begun. Young war widows are most vulnerable,” said a social worker helping widows in Jaffna, referring to domestic and other violence. She refused to give her name.
Many struggle to find jobs and cannot make ends meet, with some forced into prostitution, according to another social worker, Dharshini Chandiran.
“Widows don’t have a good place in our society,” said Christine Manoharan, who heads a support group for 1,700 widows.
“Men demand sexual favours from us. We don’t have any security,” said Manoharan, 34, herself a widow.
Several widows told AFP that even family friends were trying to take advantage of their plight, seeking sex in return for financial or other assistance. Some told of being regularly propositioned when travelling alone on public transport in a country with relatively low crime rates.
Widows are being coaxed by well-meaning members of the Tamil community to remarry to give them some security, said women’s activist Mariarosa Sivarasa.
But some are also being targeted by criminals to leave their villages and work as prostitutes in larger towns, said Ananthi Sasitharan, 43, a member of the local Northern Provincial Council.
Despite all the problems Sasitharan said she was optimistic Sirisena would eventually take up their plight, with signs his government was moving towards reconciliation.
“He appears a simple person… I feel we can even call him directly to discuss any problem,” Sasitharan told AFP.
Official figures show 27,000 widows head households in Jaffna, where the conflict was centred, while local politicians put the figure much higher. (Colombo Gazette)