By abducting children or threatening their families,
the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have recruited thousands of child
soldiers in Sri Lanka since active fighting ended in 2002, Human Rights Watch said
in a report released last week.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, or Tamil Tigers) use intimidation and
threats to pressure Tamil families in the north and east of Sri Lanka to provide
sons and daughters for military service. When families refuse, their children are
sometimes abducted from their homes at night or forcibly recruited while walking to
school. Parents who resist the recruitment of their children face retribution from
the Tamil Tigers, including violence or detention.
"The cease-fire has brought an end to the fighting, but not to the Tamil Tigers' use
of children as soldiers," said Jo Becker, children's rights advocacy director for
Human Rights Watch, and a co-author of the report. "Many Tamil families who expected
a 'peace dividend' now expect an unwelcome visit from armed Tamil Tiger recruiters."
The 80-page report, "Living in Fear: Child Soldiers and the Tamil Tigers in Sri
Lanka," includes firsthand testimonies from dozens of children from north-eastern
Sri Lanka who have been recruited by the Tamil Tigers since the cease-fire came into
effect. Children described rigorous and sometimes brutal military training,
including training with heavy weapons, bombs and landmines. Children who try to
escape are typically beaten in front of their entire unit as a warning to others.
The Tamil Tigers have recruited at least 3,516 children since the start of the
February 2002 cease-fire with the government, according to cases documented by the
United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). The agency states that this figure
represents only a portion of the total number of children recruited.
International law prohibits the recruitment of children under the age of 18 by
non-state armed groups, and all participation of children in active hostilities. The
recruitment of children under the age of 15 is now considered a war crime. The LTTE
denies recruiting children and claims that any children in its forces have joined
because of poverty, lack of educational opportunities, or the loss of their parents
and lack of alternative care. Although some children do join because of
socio-economic factors or because they want to fight for an independent Tamil state,
such "voluntary" recruitment is also a violation of international law.
In June 2003, the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government agreed to a formal Action Plan
on Children Affected by War. Under the Action Plan, the Tamil Tigers agreed to end
their recruitment of children and to release children from their forces, either
directly to the children's families or to new transit centres that were constructed
specifically for this purpose.
Since the Action Plan was signed, UNICEF figures show that the LTTE has recruited
more than twice as many children as it has released. A transit centre opened in
October 2003 received a total of only 172 children in its first year of operation.
Although the centre has capacity for 100 children, it has never held more than 49,
and for a six-week period in mid-2004, was completely empty. The other two centres
never opened because of the low number of children released.[Source: CRIN]
For more information, contact:
Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th floor, New York, NY 10118-3299, USA
Tel: + 1 (212) 290 4700; Fax: + 1 (212) 736 1300
Posted on 2004-12-22