The opposition group, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) recruited and used child soldiers throughout the 25-year armed conflict with Sri Lankan government forces. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was accused of recruiting and using the child soldiers as front-line troops. The recruiters of children under the age of 18 are mainly rebels of LTTE and the Karuna group, a break-away faction of LTTE working with Sri Lanka Forces. Forced recruitment of children under 18 escalated in the final months of hostilities during the conflict in 2008. Child-soldiers.org (2009) noted that children were used to perform a range of duties such as digging bunkers at the front line and to collect weapons from killed cadres and Sri Lankan Army (SLA) soldiers. Children were also among the tens of thousands of civilians forced to flee fighting since mid-2008 and were sent to military-run Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps deprived of liberty and freedom in the north of the country. In the east of the country, even in IDP camps, children were still at risk of recruitment and abduction.
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Child-soldiers.org (2009) stated that LTTE obtained lists of IDPs from a village officer and they used it to identify families with children for recruitment. Families attempted to conceal the children for the fear of their children being recruited as child soldiers but the LTTE cadres would return at night to search the houses for children. In the past, some families paid off the LTTE to protect their children against recruitment but LTTE no longer provided this option in the last months of conflicts. In March 2009, LTTE was said to have introduced a quota system whereby teams of six cadres needed to return with 30 conscripts or they will be subjected to severe punishment. Recruited children received minimal training as they were used as front-line troops to protect the senior leadership and because of that many children have been among the casualties during fighting.
According to Tamil Centre for Human Rights (2006), the Sri Lanka government is responsible for the grave and systematic violations against the children as they sought to cover it up with misinformation and propaganda. They also benefited from the collusion of the unwitting international community, the people concerned about issues regarding child rights, which supported the government with neutrality since 1983. It was found that under aged soldiers were recruited with the help of bogus birth certificates that were manipulated by the government, showing them as over 18 years old. When the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflicts (OP/AC) was being drawn up, Sri Lankan government tried to reduce the recruiting age to 16 for states as there were more than 100,000 army deserters. Furthermore, recruits aged 18 and above did not come forward, forcing the government to recruit under aged children. The International human rights law protecting children’s rights had been selectively used by the government thus suppressing the people rather than protecting the rights of the children. The optional protocol was never tested for any child soldiers to find their real age, thus not helping and preventing the children from being recruited.
Tamil Centre for Human Rights (2006) noted that even with the support of the international community, the Sri Lankan government could not suppress the Tamil resistance movement that garnered the support of the people. Therefore the government started raising the child soldier issue, with small groups which did not have popular support and with the so-called human rights organisations, with the intention of discrediting the resistance movement.
After the ceasefire agreement between the Government of the Democratic Socialist Repuclic of Sri Lanka and LTTE in 2002, there was a significant decrease in recruitment of child soldiers. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was working with LTTE to develop an action plan to reintegrate the children, providing them with assistance to school. They also agreed to monitor and prevent child recruitment in the future.
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Under international pressure, the LTTE announced that it would stop conscripting child soldier in the 2003, but the UNICEF and Human Rights watch (HRW) have accused it of going against its promises, conscripting Tamil children orphaned by the tsunami. UNICEF claimed that LTTE recruited at least 40 children orphaned by the Tsunami. However, from the start of 2007 LTTE agreed to release all of the recruits under the age of 18.
Up to 25% of the children have either one or both parents dead or displaced due to war. Victims of war in Northeast region were sent to “welfare centres” and around 175 000 Tamils were at the centres in 2000. 50% of the victims were children. A survey held in 2000 revealed that they were deeply traumatised. The suicide rate in these centres is threefold of the national average, hitting 103%. (Refer to Fig. 1) It has been proven by a survey done by The Butterfly Peace Garden in 2000 that children in Sri Lanka are exposed to too much war contents. (Refer to Fig. 2) Besides that, study has shown that 95% of the children attending The Butterfly Peace Garden suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For 92% of these children, the cause of PTSD is due to the conflict within Sri Lanka.
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