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“Bring back the Child”

18 June 2012 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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As a developing country with limited resources and a per capita income of US$2,368 (2010), Sri Lanka made its policy of “zero tolerance” of child recruitment a non-negotiable condition. Through sustained political will and proactive efforts, the rehabilitation and re-integration of former child combatants under its campaign of “Bring back the Child” was achieved. Sri Lanka’s success on this issue also has a positive bearing on the country’s reconciliation process.

 Addressing child recruitment became a daunting task with the LTTE as the relentless offender. According to an UNICEF report made public in 2011, over 60% of the LTTE’s fighting force from 1983 - 2002 consisted of boys and girls under18 years. UNICEF recorded over 5,700 cases of child recruitment by the LTTE from 2003 to 2009. Others have suggested a figure closer to 20,000.  Child soldiers were also used as suicide bombers, especially the girls. In the final stages of the conflict, children were thrown up in large numbers as cannon fodder.  The end of the conflict on May 18, 2009 brought an end to the dark era of forcible child recruitment for combat by the LTTE. Some of the actions taken by the Government of Sri Lanka on this vital issue are detailed briefly.

Sri Lanka voluntarily submitted to the monitoring process and established the Sri Lanka Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting in July 2006 in terms of Security Council resolution 1612.



 Sri Lanka fully cooperated with the SRSG, the Working Group and UNICEF on the rehabilitation and re-integration of former child combatants.  In July 2009, the Government invited the Special Representative of the SG for Children and Armed Conflict Major General (Ret.) Patrick Cammaert to visit Sri Lanka. The recommendations of the Special Representative have been implemented by the Government.

 A special Gazette issued by H.E. the President of Sri Lanka in 2009 on Child Rehabilitation, was based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Paris Principles. In the conflict’s aftermath, 594 child combatants (231 girls and 363 boys between 12-18 years) were taken into custody by the security forces. Adopting the principle of restorative justice and not retributive justice, these former child soldiers were placed in institutional rehabilitation and received access to education, vocational training, heath care and psychosocial support. 273 child combatants (154 male and 119 female) were given the opportunity to continue with their formal education at Hindu College in Colombo in close cooperation with the Ministry of Education prior to their reintegration with their families. Following reunification with their families, they were also given the freedom to gain admission to a school of their choice.

Progress is being made in child tracing and family reunions by the Family Tracing and Reunification Centre established by the Government in partnership with UNICEF.
In the post-conflict phase, significant attention is being paid to restoring and rebuilding schools and release of schools to the educational authorities. Among the four schools that were occupied by the Security Forces, only one school is not fully functioning. The facilities in this school are being restored.   

Recognising that children formerly associated with armed groups continue to be highly vulnerable, especially when authorities continue to unearth weapons caches in the North and the East, the monitoring of the re-integrated former combatants will continue. However, these children have been placed under the purview of the Department of Social Services.  

Government efforts are continuing to monitor the well- being of children in the North and East. In collaboration with UNICEF, the Government has set up a monitoring centre in Batticaloa in the East to prevent even stray instances of child abduction by whatever entity. Several legal training and awareness raising programmes were also organised for the Police and investigation officers in the area. Similar programmes have also been held for the public and in schools.  It is noteworthy that the Government amended the criminal law of the country in 2006 to make it consistent with international standards (through the “Penal code Amendment No. 16 of 2006) to make child recruitment a serious offence punishable by 30 years rigorous imprisonment including a fine.

This Statement was delivered at the UN Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict
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