Despite the two year old ceasefire there are still many children suffering the effects of twenty years of conflict. The Action Plan is a combined agency effort that links Government, LTTE, donors, Non Governmental Organisations and UN agencies in a united approach to address the health, education, and protection needs of children affected by war. It is estimated that 50,000 children in the affected region are out of school, around 140,000 have been displaced from their homes while landmines have killed 20 and maimed 17 children in 2003 alone. In the North East there is a serious deficit of education and health staff. More than 5,800 additional Tamil medium and 200 Sinhala medium teachers are needed.
Of particular concern is the use of children as soldiers. New UNICEF figures in the report state that during 2003, 709 children were recruited by the LTTE. In the same period, a total of 202 children were released, either to the recently established transit centre at Kilinochchi or directly back to their families. From reports submitted by families, UNICEF knows of at least 1,301 children still in the LTTE. In a three month period during August, September and October, recruitment increased with reports of 304 children taken into the LTTE. In the last two months of the year, reported recruitment fell with 17 reported cases in November and 14 in December.
In 2003 systems to address the immediate needs of children affected by war, including children released from the LTTE, have been established. For the first time in the Sri Lankan conflict there is now a formal mechanism for assisting the release and reintegration of child soldiers. The 49 children released to the Kilinochchi Transit Centre in October have been either returned to their homes or, in the case of 8, to appropriate alternative care facilities. At a meeting last week-end between the UNICEF representative to Sri Lanka, Mr. Ted Chaiban and the leader of the LTTE’s political wing, Mr. S.P. Tamilselvan, it was again stressed that the implementation of the Action Plan depends on an end to child recruitment and an accelerated release of all children in the LTTE’s ranks.
The report highlights what has been done to begin a holistic approach covering education, health, protection and economic improvement. If fully implemented over the period envisaged by the plan the result would be a vast improvement in the lives of war affected children. In 2003 ‘catch up’ education programmes reached 23,500 children, a total of 244 school buildings were refurbished and the recruitment of teachers to address the deficit has begun. The ILO has established vocational training capacity and the UNDP has systems in place for micro-credit schemes. The Ministry of Social Welfare has expanded its capacity on probation and child care. Save the Children is providing social work support and follow up reporting on former child soldiers, which is essential to ensure reintegration and rehabilitation with their families and communities. TRO is working on specific categories of vulnerable children such as street children.
For the Action Plan to be a success and to address the rights of children affected by war, the following must happen in 2004:
‘Substantial work has been done and important foundations have been laid’, said Ted Chaiban of UNICEF. ‘The report shows that this is the time for increased commitment from all those engaged in the Action Plan because substantial change, that will bring benefits throughout Sri Lanka, is within our grasp.’
The total cost to implement the Action Plan’s 10 components over a three year period is $14.2 million, with $4 for micro credit and income generation (UNDP), $2.2 million for vocational training (ILO) and $8 million for different components including health, education and protection (UNICEF).
For further information, please contact:
Surani Abeyesekera, Communication Officer,
Colombo (94-11) 255-5270 or (94) 777 416742