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Sri Lanka

Crisis overview

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2004/Watkins
A child waits to go home after being released by the LTTE

14 July 2004 – In the last 19 years, civil war in Sri Lanka has resulted in the death of over 64,000 children, women and men. The fighting between the warring parties – the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Government of Sri Lanka – is responsible for not only the deaths of tens of thousands, but also has caused the displacement of nearly 800,000 people. Children who are displaced often run the risk of being recruited into the ranks of the LTTE, and to date there are more than 1,000 children still in the LTTE despite a fragile cease-fire agreed to by both parties.

UNICEF has repeatedly asked the LTTE to release all children in its ranks and to take steps to ensure that all members of its organization know that underage recruitment will not be allowed.

Last year, the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE jointly signed the Action Plan for Children Affected by War, designed to increase access to education, quality health care, and skills training in the war-affected north and east.

One of the commitments made by the LTTE under the Action Plan was that they would stop recruiting children, whether voluntarily or through coercion. After promising signs in April, which included the release of 269 children, the LTTE appear to have once again begun actively recruiting children.

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2004/Watkins
After being released by the LTTE, these children play in a temporary transition centre while waiting for their parents.

“UNICEF is calling on the rebel movement in Sri Lanka to release all children from within their ranks and to take simple steps such as explicitly indicating that they are excluding under 18-year-old children, when they recruit,” said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF’s Representative in Sri Lanka, in a recent interview.

After the fighting, child soldiers still face difficulties

Upon their return to their communities, some former child combatants are still traumatized from their experiences and are in need of many forms of support, from counselling to education.

“UNICEF is committed to working on the rehabilitation of these children, making sure they have access to education, vocational training, and income-generating activities, with a range of partners that are working on this initiative,” said Mr. Chaiban.

*It has been estimated that over 300,000 children under the age of 18 are currently being used in more than 30 conflicts worldwide. Since the mid-1980s, UNICEF has been regularly involved in the demobilization of child soldiers, playing a key role in advocating for and securing their release from armed forces and groups in countries such as Angola, Burundi, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Uganda.

UNICEF has helped demobilize child soldiers even in the midst of war, including over 1,000 children in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, 44 per cent  of child soldiers are girls.



Related links

Tens of thousands dead or missing in Sri Lanka

UNICEF is regularly involved in the demobilization of child soldiers

Read more about demobilization activity in Sri Lanka

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