Make your own free website on Tripod.com
                        

  THE UNIVERSITY TEACHERS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, JAFFNA, SRI LANKA
             (UTHR(Jaffna))
 
                    Briefing No.2
               Date of release : 20th June 1995
 
          Children in the North-East War:1985 -1995
 
   The Beginnings
 
   From the inception of the UTHR(J), we have constantly documented
   the use of children in violence, pointing out areas of concern. Our
   reports analysed the degeneration of the politics that lay behind this
   development. A host of studies in war zones around the world, including
   Jaffna, testify to traumatisation and other extreme adverse effects on
   children resulting from the ravages of war. This makes children even more
   vulnerable to propaganda, the content of which they are, even under
   normal conditions, in no position to judge. The use of children as tools
   of war, where they are manipulated and coerced into being the unwitting
   and unwilling perpetrators of war's inevitable atrocities and
   inhumanities, is therefore as pernicious as it is cynical. It can form
   no part of a genuine liberation struggle. It would thus hardly come as
   a surprise that the child recruits are drawn from the most vulnerable
   sections of society. These child victims in turn brutalise an entire
   society beyond human endurance.
 
    The first use of children in the North-East war surfaced during the mid-
   eighties when various groups used them as sentries. These children were,
   sometimes,  given grenades and asked to monitor the movements of the Sri
   Lankan Army as well as of other groups  around their camps. When the
   LTTE attacked and killed several hundred cadres from the TELO in May
   1986, several of these  children who were on sentry duty were also
   brutally killed. The  enlistment of very young children for military
   activities began about November 1987, following the establishment of the
   Indian Army's control over Jaffna. Children as young as ten were used as
   assassins by the LTTE in a bid to paralyse life in Jaffna. During the
   middle of 1989, the Indian-backed EPRLF-led coalition press-ganged
   thousands of youth for its Tamil National Army, hundreds of whom were
   later massacred by the LTTE. Among the conscripts were many children.
 
   Institutionalisation of child recruitment
 
   A point had been reached where large numbers of people became
   disillusioned with the liberation struggle. While mature youths kept
   away, the use of women and children as combatants became significant from
   the inception of the war with the IPKF(Indian Army). When the Indian Army
   withdrew and the LTTE prepared for a fresh round of war with the Sri
   Lankan forces during the early months of 1990, the use of children had
   become firmly institutionalised.
 
   The LTTE had cornered itself into a situation where its oppressiveness
   within the community had to be counterbalanced by an appeal deriving from
   a vision of the grandiose. Sycophancy from all levels of society was used
   to legitimise its cause and its recruitment drive. We have in our earlier
   reports described how several members of the elite traded expressions of
   support for the LTTE in return for special favours in securing their
   private interests.
 
   From 1990, the LTTE's methods of enlisting  children were initially
   relatively subtle. The methods employed included displaying cut outs and
   poster pictures of dead cadre all over, patriotic songs, exhibits of
   representations of Sri Lankan Army atrocities, meetings in schools, LTTE
   versions of history in school curricula with compulsory tests and a
   general exhibition of military glamour. Even children's playgrounds and
   parks were designed with mock weapons to give children a feeling that
   they were playing in a battle ground.A common picture seen everywhere in
   Jaffna in 1990 was of an LTTE soldier holding  children on either side
   and walking towards a hill top where a gun was planted upside down. This
   symbolically portrayed the vision of the LTTE.
 
   An important reason why children were vulnerable to the appeal of the
   LTTE was the inhuman behavior of the security forces, particularly in the
   East, and the constant use of aerial bombing and shelling of civilian
   areas of the North. It must be remembered that this recruitment was
   taking place amidst social paralysis, and  in a moral vacuum where only
   one voice could be heard - the voice of the LTTE.
 
   Since a momentary perception of glamour, or alienation , rather than
   political motivation, was what led children to join, this tended to wear
   off quickly and many children longed to get back to their mothers. Thus,
   from the beginning, means were contrived by the organisation to trap the
   children.
 
   1. The LTTE's laborious pass system restricts flow of the people from the
   North. Also, the general travel ban on the age group 10-25 years makes
   it extremely difficult to take  children out of Jaffna.
 
   2.As soon as children were taken into the organisation their hair was
   cropped to make sure that they do not escape. There are several cases of
   deserters in Jaffna who had to be kept hidden until the hair grew. As the
   war of June 1990 gathered momentum even harsher methods were employed.
   Children who joined were quickly hidden away and parents were denied
   contact.The first child to express a wish to go home, was humiliated and
   given a sound thrashing in front of his mates, which effectively deterred
   others from expressing any such wish.
 
   3.The procedure for leaving the organisation was so punitive that even
   those who applied to leave after being in the organisation for a number
   of years often withdrew their application.
 
   Dehumanisation and traumatisation
   Many children were used in tasks  such as the torture of political
   prisoners, and in massacres, even of women and children in Muslim and
   Sinhalese villages. Children were also used in massed frontal attacks
   such as on Elephant Pass camp in July 1991. There were also very young
   cadre in other major massed attacks, such as at Pooneryn during November
   1993. Each one of these attacks claimed of the order of 500 dead. The
   trauma of children who suffered permanent  loss of limb and saw many of
   their closest comrades mowed down, made a vivid impression on those who
   visited Jaffna Hospital.The agony of children who had being used in acts
   of violence against unarmed civilians, women and children are also on
   record. Several of them were in the 12-14 age group. Many of them live in
   a spiritual emptiness where they wish to end their lives, and resign
   themselves to be used within the organisation itself as suicide
   operatives. The LTTE also found that  children are more useful and
   efficient as lone assassins. With cyanide in hand, when children lose the
   fear of being apprehended, they could become very deadly. They have fewer
   inhibitions and treat the assignments as a game.
 
   Target groups
   One gets some idea of which the target groups for recruitment are if one
   takes into account the fact that in the Jaffna peninsula, the most
   educationally  advanced part of the North-East where many have access to
   foreign countries, about 20 to 30% of the population has already
   emigrated to the West. Although the LTTE regards all children as
   potential recruits and has imposed strict controls on people leaving the
   North, the elite and their children are accorded favoured treatment in
   return for their complicity. Displacement of large populations and the
   high cost of living, partly resulting from the LTTE's means of financing
   the war, have made the poor extremely desperate. It is such groups that
   provide most of the child recruits.`Punniapoomi' (Sacred Land) is a
   school run by the LTTE in Oddusuddan where children are moulded and
   trained in a militaristic environment. The 'Chencholai' group are LTTE
   sponsored orphanages in Jaffna, where children are taught to sing songs
   with godly veneration for the Leader and his vision.
 
   From early March 1995 even as the recent peace talks were supposed to be
   going on, LTTE propaganda wing leader Thamil Chelvan addressed school
   children in the Rural North announcing preparations for the next round
   of war and calling for volunteers. Recruitment took an aggressive turn,
   particularly when the war became a physical fact from 19th April. There
   was a sharp increase in the invasion of schools and tutories in Jaffna
   by the LTTE to have recruitment sessions. A Student's Revival Week was
   announced beginning 6th June targeting students in the mid-teens who were
   to be subjected to intense propaganda and the screening of action videos.
   Schools are now grinding to a halt as parents and teachers fear for the
   children. In recent weeks there have been several amazing instances of
   unorganised and spontaneous resistance by parents and teachers to the
   LTTE. The latter have used desperate methods to enter schools whose
   authorities and parents tried to prevent them. Principals have been
   manhandled and veiled threats issued against individual teachers. Even
   this resistance may fall apart in the face of the LTTE's resolve to
   recruit their targetted 10,000 cadre, if the Government continues to bomb
   and shell civilian areas! Confronted with public demonstrations of
   disenchantment in earlier times, the LTTE's reflex has been to provoke the
   opposing state power into a violent response that was as severe as
   it was blind.
 
   In the East the recruitment was concentrated during the ceasefire period
   of early January to April 19th. One means used to collect children was
   the screening of video recordings of military operations such as Elephant
   Pass and Pooneryn. One catergory of youth in the Amparai district among
   whom the LTTE recruited a significant number are cow hands. These were
   boys mainly in the age group 12 - 16 years who had dropped out of school
   for reasons of poverty.
 
   There were several cases where youngsters were forcibly taken by the
   LTTE. In one case two boys of ages 15 & 18 respectively from the Ampari
   District who later walked through the jungles to Urani in the Batticaloa
   District said that they had been forced by the LTTE which otherwise
   threatened to set fire to their houses. In Kallar people complained to
   the STF that LTTE recruiters were forcibly taking four boys in a north-
   bound public  bus towards Batticaloa. They were rescued by the STF at the
   Cheddipalyam check-point. The incident was reported in the press and was
   independently confirmed by us. A technique commonly employed was for an
   LTTE cadre to lure a school boy away to a lonely place by asking him for
   a lift on his bicycle.
 
   Even for children who went on their own, the transience of the attraction
   clearly revealed itself. In the Batticaloa District , unlike in LTTE
   controlled Jaffna, many of the boys were able to escape and go into
   hiding or surrender to the Army, provided they had not been sent to
   Jaffna immediately. There was also the   operation of a herd instinct.
   Often boys joined as a group and deserted as a group. In Veechukalmunai,
   four joined after a video session, and all four later returned home.
   There are several cases of this kind. One of the LTTE's operations during
   the ceasefire was to launch boy-hunts for youngsters with cropped hair
   (the first thing done upon recruitment) who were in hiding.
 
   Around Batticaloa town itself more than 40 youths, both escaped and
   deserted from the LTTE recently, were handed over to their parents by the
   Army through various channels. Other sources in the North said that during
   the ceasefire, about seven  MRS buses brought Eastern youth for training
   in Mullaitivu- a total of more than 500. The age group they said was below
   15 and sometimes less than ten. The total number recruited or conscripted
   from the East during  this period is placed at about 1500 - some put it
   below this figure and others estimate figures as high as 3000. The
   majority of the recruits were from certain parts of Batticaloa District
   including Kiran and Sittandy areas. Knowledgeable sources place the total
   number recruited in Trincomalee District at much below 200.
 
   Addressing the issues: Some first steps
 
   The use of children as combatants in the manner it is done brings out
   certain features of the Tamil struggle in its present debased form. Apart
   from condemning the LTTE for methods of this kind, we need to understand
   other important factors which  contribute to this tragedy.
 
   From  past experiences with the Security Forces, most Tamils do feel
   insecure. Even people who stayed in refugee camps during 1990 were taken
   away by the Security Forces and hundreds of them disappeared (eg. Eastern
   University). Most of the poor who live in interior villages in the
   Eastern Province have undergone tremendous hardships resulting from the
   total disregard with which they have been  treated by the State.
   Invariably every family has been affected by Security Forces activity.
   Their constant disabilities  range from threat to their life, to a
   breakdown of economic activity. Young children continue to live with
   bitter memories amidst fear. Their internalized anger is being
   effectively harnessed by the LTTE in various ways.
 
   Unless the voices of people who are marginalised are heard and responded
   to, the present trend will continue. Owing to the chauvinist ideology in
   which most members of the Security Forces have been moulded, they are
   unable to respond creatively to the dilemma of ordinary Tamils, and find
   it more congenial to rely on the use of terror.
 
   The grim fate staring at these children scarred by the war poses a major
   challenge for democratic forces in the South that are working for peace.
   They need to understand the predicament of the ordinary Tamil  people and
   consistently uphold their interests by making the Security Forces
   accountable.
 
   Moreover, the Government needs to take the initiative to monitor the
   activities of the Security Forces especially in the interior villages. The
   reality in Jaffna too needs clear understanding. The children are growing
   up in a militarised environment, having constantly faced bombing and
   shelling. They have been in every sense trapped by a force which sees
   children chiefly as cannon fodder.
 
   Suicidal attacks and cyanide carrying cadre symbolise the overall nature
   of the political trend. If it cannot attain its goal of achieving
   uncontested power (ie. Eelam) , it will commit both itself and the
   section of Tamil society within its ambit to collective suicide. This is
   the inescapable direction of its logic.
   How do we break this vicious circle? If the  Government is prepared to
   accept that the politics of the past, with its narrow sectarian ends, had
   created the present crisis, it is necessary to look into every aspect of
   life which has been affected by it.
 
   Has the Government any message for the children, the marginalised, and
   the youths in  Tamil society ? If so, are there any concrete programmes
   to educate and guide the Armed Forces who are the only representatives of
   the Government in the war zones? Are there any structures which have been
   vested with adequate powers to give effect to such programmes? Is there
   any qualitative change in the outlook of the military to encompass the
   complex reality of the present and the ethnic nature of the conflict?
 
 
   Then, how do Tamils themselves deal with this phenomenon of child
   warriors? We can no doubt academically explain the present reality. But
   can we justify it and allow this trend to continue when we can clearly
   see that its outcome is necessarily the total destruction of our
   community? In the present reality where ordinary Tamil people are
   powerless,  some  perceive it as a neccessity to preserve the LTTE with
   its child battalions comprising other people's children, as a means to
   extract a political solution from the Government. Hence all criticism is
   muted. But the hypocrisy of this position becomes evident from the fact
   that it is nearly always voiced by elites from outside the North East and
   by a few in Jaffna whose children have been secured means of escape. On
   the other hand the victims and prospective victims in the North-East are
   daily voicing their doubts in several ways about the politics which is
   neither defensive nor liberating. Tamil opinion makers, politicians and
   expatriates must look at the fate that awaits these children and the
   community, and rethink the roles they are playing now.
 
   At a broader level, can we allow such collective brutalisation to
   continue in the name of patriotism, national integrity and sovereignty;
   or  of the right to self determination and liberation? We do know from
   experience that these notions are only rhetorical in the absence of any
   corresponding substance in the politics of either side that could give
   them realisation.