COLOMBO, SRI LANKA, 9 September 2004 - A report released today by UNICEF says that the stalled peace talks between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is a major impediment to assisting children affected by the country’s two-decade long war.
Reviewing progress made in the first half of 2004 under the Action Plan for Children Affected by War, UNICEF found that other barriers to assisting children made vulnerable by the conflict included the LTTE’s failure to end the recruitment of children, and the destabilizing effect of continued inter-factional violence in the East.
However, UNICEF also made it clear that all organizations involved in the Action Plan would continue to work for the rights of children throughout Sri Lanka. Action Plan partners include the International Labour Organization (ILO), Ministry of Social Welfare, Save the Children in Sri Lanka, the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“UNICEF is very concerned about the impact the stalled peace negotiations is having on children in this country,” said Mr. Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Representative for Sri Lanka. “Increased insecurity and the continued recruitment of child soldiers are making it more difficult for families to access projects set up under the Action Plan. If families do not feel safe sending their children to school or vocational training courses, then it will become harder for humanitarian projects to succeed.”
The Action Plan is the only signed human rights agreement between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to have emerged from the suspended peace talks in 2003, and it represents the only formal agreement by both sides to address the urgent needs of children affected by war.
“Under the Action Plan, a lot of good work for children has been achieved,” said Mr. Chaiban. “But this is at risk when the LTTE does not take its commitment to end recruitment seriously, and if progress in the peace process remains elusive.”
Under the Action Plan, close to 7,000 children enrolled back to school and more than 43,000 children received catch-up-education classes in the first half of the 2004 alone. 241 school buildings damaged or destroyed in the war were repaired or reconstructed, and 580 child soldiers and their families received social work assessments. A further 410 children who were engaged in hazardous labour or were living in the streets also benefited from social work support.
At the same time, reports of recruitment for the first half of the year show that the LTTE recruited 488 children into its ranks over this six-month period. While some children volunteered, others were forcibly recruited, sometimes violently, particularly in the East. During the same period, 449 children were released by the LTTE, but over 1,300 children still remain in their ranks.
While conditions for children have improved significantly during the past two years of relative peace and stability in Sri Lanka, continued progress will require genuine political will by both the government and the LTTE to create a climate of peace and stability throughout the country.
Specifically, the UNICEF report calls on the LTTE to immediately cease all recruitment of under 18 year olds and release all children within its ranks. The LTTE should also actively publicize its commitment not to accept under 18 year olds, verify the age of all young people who volunteer to join its ranks to ensure that they are not under-age and cease all forcible recruitment and abductions.
The report also recommends that the Government of Sri Lanka should ensure that children have full and free access to primary and secondary education, vocational training and health care throughout the North East, and ensure that there are sufficient numbers of adequately trained teachers, health and social workers. UNICEF also called on the government to amend the Prevention of Terrorism Act to ensure that it does not apply to children under 18 years of age.
According to the report, the international community also has a responsibility to increase the resources and assistance available to war-affected children. In particular, partner agencies to the Action Plan need to increase their programmes, staffing and capacity to respond more swiftly and effectively to the needs of children and their families. Partner organizations should continue to build alliances with community-based organizations and develop strategies to protect children from violations of their rights, including under-age recruitment.
For further information, please contact:
Geoffrey Keele, UNICEF Sri Lanka +94 777 416 742 firstname.lastname@example.org
Martin Dawes, UNICEF Regional Office +977 1 441 7082 email@example.com
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Geneva +41 22 909 5716 firstname.lastname@example.org
Gordon Weiss, UNICEF New York HQ +1 212 326 7426 email@example.com