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Home Human Rights & Humanitarian Law > Humanitarian Laws of Armed Conflict > Child Soldiers and the Law > Children and Armed Conflict in Sri Lanka: Politics, Human Rights & the Law  > Child Rights Convention, Optional Protocol, Child Soldiers and the LTTE

Children and Armed Conflict in Sri Lanka:
Politics, Human Rights & the Law

Child Rights Convention, Optional Protocol,
Child Soldiers and the LTTE
LTTE Peace Secretariat, 3 July 2007

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 below.

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.

1. The 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�.

2. The 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 right.

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 a de-facto government 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.


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