Understanding and applying the Child Rights standards in the
Northeast under the LTTE de-facto government has become a confused
affair due to several inherent contradictions surrounding the issue.
Three major contradictions surrounding the issue are explained
Contradiction One: The UN child rights instrument
The following two important facts about the United Nations child
rights instruments are unknown to many people energetically working
on the issue of child solders.
United Nations Convention of Rights of Child (CRC) was
adopted in 1989. In Article 38, it specifies 15 as the minimum
age for recruitment into a State�s armed forces and calls on the
States to, �take all feasible measures to ensure that persons
who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a
direct part in hostilities�.
Optional Protocol to CRC about Children in Armed Conflict
was declared in 2001. It did not compulsorily raise this age of
15 as the minimum recruitment age for a State�s armed forces.
It, however, did declare the minimum age of recruitment into
�armed groups� as 18.
Unfortunately, the entire discourse on child soldiers is based on
these inconsistent Articles in the CRC and its Optional Protocol.
When these are applied to the youths between the ages of 15-18 who
join the LTTE, the contradictions multiply further.
Contradiction two: Evolution of the LTTE
LTTE began its armed struggle in the early 1970s as a guerilla force
when it could have been accurately described as an armed group.
However, in the 1970�s there was neither the CRC nor the Optional
Protocol in place. Therefore until 2001, that is when the Optional
Protocol was declared, LTTE did not violate any international human
rights instruments by taking youths above the age of 15. CRC allowed
States to do so and in the absence of anything else and by
implication, armed groups would consider themselves to have the same
By the time the Optional Protocol entered into force in 2001, 10
years after declaration of CRC, 30 year after the formation of the
LTTE, the LTTE was a fully fledged mature non-state actor running
with many uncorrupt efficient structures with demonstrated
humanitarian concerns. Thus, since 2001, LTTE is not simply an armed
group. It is also a State in formation. Yet, LTTE has respected the
international call to desist recruiting underage youths and the
result is that underage youths are regularly released to their
families or to ESDC (to be explained later) when the youth refuses
to go back to his/her family.
Contradiction three: Political tool or child welfare
UNICEF mission in Sri Lanka is its largest mission in the world. It
has taken on the job of monitoring underage youths joining the LTTE
as one of its major responsibility, not withstanding the above two
contradictions. This UNICEF mission has indeed failed to understand
the evolving context surrounding the issue in the Northeast, in
spite of its long experience here.
The problem stems from the interaction of two factors, the Colombo
polity�s determination to use the issue as a political tool and the
Colombo centredness of UNICEF. The Colombo polity, including, the
GoSL, civil society, and peaceniks, have exploited the �LTTE child
soldier issue� as a political tool from the very beginning. The
UNICEF Head Office in Colombo, like all other international agencies
based in Colombo, is vulnerable to this vehement determination of
the Colombo polity to use the issue for political ends. Of course
there are UNICEF mission branches in the Northeast. These branches
collect and channel raw data to its Colombo based Head Office.
However policies are decided on and statements, reports are issued
from this Colombo Head Office. This Colombo centredness, of UNICEF
and of all other international agencies, and indeed of the
international community as a whole prevents them from understanding
the issue of underage youths joining the LTTE in context.