There were no indications of recruitment or use of child soldiers by the Sri Lankan government.
Non-state armed groups
The armed opposition group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) continued to recruit and use children in violation of international law.240 In January, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), set up to monitor the implementation of peace negotiations, reported an overall decrease in child soldier recruitment during previous months. However, media reports suggested there was an increase in the number of documented cases in January 2003,241 and in February UNICEF stated it still had more than 700 complaints of child recruitment “on its books”.242 Both UNICEF and local organizations stated that many other cases could have gone unreported.243 The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers also received confidential information to suggest that in many cases children were recruited to the LTTE without the knowledge of their families, causing distress to parents once they realized their children had gone.244
In February 2003, an LTTE spokesperson said “the LTTE has made a solemn pledge to UNICEF to cease all recruitment of underage children…whenever children want to join we will now check their ages.”245 He also claimed that senior LTTE military leaders had been discharged following child recruitment investigations.246 However, later the same month a local newspaper reported a woman’s complaint to the Central Camp police station in Ampara about an LTTE threat to kill her if she did not give them her son, who supposedly had recently escaped from an LTTE camp.247 Later in February, the LTTE ordered a general strike in parts of the Trincomalee district in protest of the arrest of two of their female members on charges of abduction of two schoolgirls.248
On 20 March 2003, a child soldier was killed from gunshot wounds received during training at an LTTE camp in northwest Sri Lanka.249 The LTTE allegedly invited the boy’s parents to attend a service at the camp having refused to return his body to the family.250 Also in March, a report by the University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR) documented several child abduction cases, indicating that most kidnappings occurred while children, many under 15, were returning from school in both government and LTTE-controlled territories.251
By the end of May UNICEF had reportedly received 1,370 complaints of child recruitment by the LTTE, and one source reported that there were 60 cases in the Batticaloa district alone between January and August.252 The UTHR-Jaffna reported that while the LTTE had promised to release 400 children, only a handful had been released, most of them unfit for combat roles.253
The February 2002 peace agreement allowed unarmed LTTE members to enter government-controlled territory, which has reportedly enabled the LTTE to kidnap children there. The National Child Protection Authority and opposition parties have criticized the government for its failure to protect children from LTTE abductions.254
Demobilization and child protection programs
In March 2003, UNICEF and the LTTE developed a detailed plan for the rehabilitation of child soldiers in the northeast.255 In April UNICEF facilitated a workshop attended by the government, LTTE members and civil society representatives. The purpose was to develop an action plan to address the needs and care of children affected by conflict, including child soldiers. The plan included: child rights training for the LTTE, government armed forces and communities; a “monitoring mechanism administered by UNICEF” for children in the North East; the establishment of transit centres for “release and reintegration” of child soldiers and those “seeking recruitment”; and mechanisms providing micro credit, vocational training, education, health and nutritional services, and psychosocial care.256 By mid-2003 elements of the action plan had begun to be implemented, including child rights awareness campaigns and construction of transit centres.257
In August construction began of a third transit centre, in Batticaloa district, to provide temporary care and accommodation for under-age recruits released by the LTTE.258 However, the management of the centres was widely criticized by NGOs and in the media. The centres will be run by the LTTE-run Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) with support from UNICEF, and are located in LTTE-controlled areas. Concern was expressed that access to the camps will be restricted by the LTTE, and that the government and National Child Protection Authority will have no say in running them.259
241 Beck, Lindsay, “Interview–Tamil Tigers committed to child soldiers plan- UN,” Reuters, 16 June 2003.
242 Weekly assessments and briefings: Sri Lanka, South Asia Intelligence Review, 17 February 2003.
243 Beck, Lindsay, “Interview–Tamil Tigers committed to child soldiers plan–UN,” Reuters, 16 June 2003; “Sri Lanka: LTTE Continues to Build its Child Army Unperturbed by Peace Talks”, Asia Child Rights Weekly Newsletter, 23 April, 2003.
244 Information received confidentially by the Coalition in September 2003.
245 “Tamil Tigers Will Stop Using Child Soldiers,” The Scotsman, 10 February 2003.
246 “Tamil Tigers Will Stop Using Child Soldiers,” The Scotsman, 10 February 2003.
248 “Strike grips northeast Sri Lanka after child conscription charge [Corrected 02/17/03],” Agence France-Press, 17 February 2003.
249 “Sri Lanka: Child Soldier Dies in LTTE Camp [News],” Asia Child Rights Weekly Newsletter, 26 March, 2003.
250 “Sri Lanka: Child Soldier Dies in LTTE Camp [News],” Asia Child Rights Weekly Newsletter, 26 March, 2003.
251 “Special Report No: 16” University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) Sri Lanka, 18 March 2003.
252 Hindustan Times, 17 August 2003, www.hindustantimes.com/news/181.341886.00050002.htm
253 Hindustan Times, 17 August 2003, www.hindustantimes.com/news/181.341886.00050002.htm
254 “Sri Lanka: LTTE Continues to Build its Child Army Unperturbed by Peace Talks,” Asia Child Rights Weekly Newsletter, 23 April, 2003.
255 “UNICEF, Tamil Tigers agree to new steps forward for children,” Joint LTTE/UNICEF Press Release, 4 March 2003.
256 “Government and LTTE agree on action plan to address the needs of children affected by war in the Northeast.” Press Centre, UNICEF, 11 April 2003.
257 Beck, Lindsay, “Interview–Tamil Tigers committed to child soldiers plan–UN,” Reuters, 16 June 2003.
258 UNICEF press release, 6 August 2003
259 Hindustan Times, 17 August 2003, www.hindustantimes.com/news/181.341886.00050002.htm