Children Affected by Conflict
Sri Lanka’s 23-year long conflict has seen more than 60,000 people killed and almost one million displaced. Its impact on children and women in the country’s north-east has been severe.
Despite the 2002 ceasefire agreement, much of the area’s physical infrastructure remains in tatters and the social costs, through displacement and the destruction of family units, paid by the war-affected, is severe.
Underage recruitment has been an issue in Sri Lanka throughout and after the war years. Recruitment of children, both as combatants and in military service roles still continues, although the total number of reported cases per year has declined since 2002. While child recruitment has been reduced, and the average age of recruits has increased from 14 to 16 over the past 4 years, records show recruitment of children as young as seven. Recruitment of even one child is unacceptable according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. UNICEF monitoring of underage recruitment.
While Sri Lanka struggles through a wavering ceasefire and peace process, positive news may be on the horizon and it sits in the hands of the country’s children. According to a poll undertaken in 2005, through the Children As Zones of Peace Initiative, Sri Lankan children overwhelmingly support peace and see a number of benefits in the ceasefire, including a reduction in killings; development of the country; and a safer and peaceful environment in which to live. Children As Zones of Peace Press Release
Action Plan for Children Affected by WarChildren may be affected by war in many different ways. While underage recruits often gain the greatest attention in Sri Lanka, war has had its impact in further ways. As a result of the instability caused by war children may become engaged in hazardous labour, drop out of school or end up living on the streets.
The Action Plan for Children Affected by War is the only human rights agreement between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE to emerge from the 2003 peace talks. It provides children and their families with meaningful support and engagement that will help restore normalcy to their lives and reduce the risk of re-recruitment. It also addresses the impacts of war by providing affected children with opportunities to access education, skills training, income generation and improved health care.
Extensive work is needed too to ensure that former child soldiers, their families and indeed entire war-affected communities are given the opportunity to rebuild their lives. Repatriation, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction are essential elements in ensuring a return to normalcy and the provision of essential services. Work to ensure continued protection and maintenance of human rights, providing livelihoods and income generation, providing shelter, healthcare, water and sanitation, education and good governance are essential elements in this process and form the basis for UNICEF’s 4R program that strives to enhance the lives of the conflict-affected.