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Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Sri Lanka

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Sri Lanka, 2004, available at: [accessed 27 November 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 18.9 million (5.8 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 152,300
Compulsory recruitment age: no conscription
Voluntary recruitment age: 18
Voting age: 18
Optional Protocol: ratified 8 September 2000
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, ILO 138, ILO 182

The armed opposition group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), continued to recruit and use child soldiers. The average age on recruitment was 15. Some 650 children had been released by March 2004, but hundreds, possibly thousands, remained. Abductions and recruitment drives continued in the north and east. There were no reports of government forces using under-18s.


The opposition LTTE, in conflict with government forces since 1983, declared a unilateral ceasefire in late 2001. A formal ceasefire agreement between the government and the LTTE followed in February 2002. Peace talks and negotiations took place in Norway, Germany and Thailand in 2002 and 2003, and a Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission of representatives of five Nordic countries was set up to monitor implementation of the ceasefire. In April 2003 the talks broke down, according to the LTTE because of lack of progress in dismantling army High Security Zones, in resettling the internally displaced Tamil population and in addressing poverty in the north and east.1 The ceasefire held. In July 2003 the government and the LTTE signed an Action Plan, developed with UNICEF, to address the needs of war-affected children in the north and east.


National recruitment legislation and practice

In its declaration made on ratification of the Optional Protocol in September 2000, the government stated that there is no compulsory, forced or coerced recruitment into the national armed forces; recruitment is solely on a voluntary basis; and the minimum age for recruitment into the armed forces is 18.2 There were no reports of children being recruited into government forces.

Military training and military schools

There are various military training institutions. The minimum age for entry is 18, and students are not considered members of the armed forces. According to the 1985 Mobilization and Supplementary Forces Act, the National Cadet Corps is open to those over 16 (Sections 40 and 51). It provides pre-military and civil training to students, but cadets may not be called to active service and are not members of the armed forces (Section 49).3

Government-linked paramilitary groups

The government-linked paramilitary People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) reportedly recruited children as young as 12 in the Vavuniya area in early 2001. An inquiry by the police found three children being trained at one of the group's camps. They were returned to their parents, but other child recruits remained unaccounted for.4 In July 2001, 15 children allegedly being trained at the "Lucky House" camp were transferred to another, unidentified, camp run by the group.5 There were no reports of underage recruitment by PLOTE since the February 2002 ceasefire agreement.

Armed political groups

In February 2003, following peace talks in Berlin, an LTTE spokesperson said "The LTTE has made a solemn pledge to UNICEF to cease all recruitment of underage children ... where children want to join we will now check their ages". He also said that senior LTTE military leaders had been discharged following investigations into child recruitment.6

Reports of abduction, forcible and voluntary recruitment of children by the LTTE continued, however, despite this pledge.7 UNICEF documented the recruitment of 709 further children, at the same time as more than 200 children were released under an agreed demobilization plan (see below).8 The news media also reported continued abductions during demobilization.9 In February 2004 some 1,250 children were known to remain in the LTTE, and local organizations believed the true figure to be far higher.10 According to UNICEF, the average age of children when recruited was 15 years and, of those children recruited in 2003, 43 per cent were girls and 57 per cent boys.11

The LTTE reportedly continued to order families to hand over a child as part of a "quota" system. In May 2002 an LTTE political official allegedly called parents for a meeting at a temple near the eastern town of Batticaloa and demanded a child from each family. Later, 12 children were forcibly removed.12 In a speech to expatriates in Switzerland in December 2002 an LTTE regional commander was quoted as saying "The Batticaloa people are giving their children, you must give your money".13 In February 2003 a woman reportedly complained to the police in Ampara that the LTTE had threatened to kill her if she did not hand over her son, who had recently escaped from an LTTE camp.14

Many children were simply abducted. The February 2002 ceasefire agreement allowed unarmed LTTE members to enter government-controlled territory, reportedly enabling child kidnappings to take place. In early 2003 both the National Child Protection Agency and opposition parties criticized the government for its failure to protect children from LTTE abductions.15 One study found that most kidnappings occurred while children, many under 15, were returning from school in both government and LTTE-controlled territories.16 In February 2003 the LTTE ordered a general strike in parts of the Trincomalee district to protest at the arrest of two female members charged with abducting two schoolgirls.17 Some children were taken from their homes, but Batticaloa residents said the LTTE also picked up children in the street or on the way home from school.18 Recruitment drives were reportedly renewed in October 2003, with the LTTE demanding one child from each family in several eastern districts and aggressively recruiting in the north.19 Such drives appeared to follow a cyclical pattern, depending on the levels of international scrutiny and the need to supplement recruitment by family quotas.20 Many families fled to safer places to protect their children from the LTTE, and others did not report abductions for fear of LTTE reprisals.21

Voluntary recruitment continued to be reported, sometimes in response to campaigns of speeches, videos and heroic songs in which war paraphernalia and posters of heroes were displayed.22 Children sometimes enlisted to escape domestic violence or sexual abuse, or as a means to escape caste discrimination and to achieve social recognition and mobility.23

Once in the camps, strict discipline was imposed and links with families were broken. Children who said they missed home were reportedly beaten, and other infringements of the rules were punished by whipping. At the Trincomalee camp, children were warned not to try to escape as they were surrounded by crocodile-infested waters. It was alleged that children had been killed during live firing exercises and their bodies summarily buried.24 On 20 March 2003 a child soldier died from gunshot wounds received during training at an LTTE camp in northwest Sri Lanka.25

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR)

Following peace talks in 2002 and 2003, the LTTE agreed to work with UNICEF and the government to develop a program for war-affected children. The resulting Action Plan for Children Affected by War aimed to address the needs of 50,000 children in the north and east. It was signed by the governmental Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process and the LTTE in July 2003 for immediate implementation. Members of the steering committee for the Action Plan are representatives from the Ministry of Social Welfare, UNICEF and the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), an organization closely linked to the LTTE. Technical agencies responsible for implementing the plan are UNICEF, the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the government's Ministry of Social Welfare, TRO and the international non-governmental organization, Save the Children.26

By mid-2003 a formal mechanism to assist the release and reintegration of child soldiers was in place. On 3 October 2003, 49 child soldiers were the first to be formally released by the LTTE and handed over to UNICEF in the northern town of Kilinochchi.27 By March 2004 a total of 649 former child soldiers had been formally released.28

Some of those released were sent to a newly opened transit centre in Kilinochchi. The centre possessed facilities for sheltering up to one hundred children for three months. Children arriving at the centre are assessed individually by UNICEF and TRO and a family assessment is carried out by TRO and Save the Children. Findings from the assessments are discussed at childcare review meetings, and recommendations from the meetings are discussed with the children concerned. Once the former child soldiers have been reunified with their families, follow-up and reintegration services are the responsibility of Save the Children.29

The opening of two other such centres in the eastern towns of Trincomalee and Batticaloa was suspended as of March 2004. UNICEF and other implementing organizations called on the LTTE to renew its commitment to accelerate the rate of releases and for an end to re-recruitment of all under-18s.30

* see glossary for information about internet sources

1 Amnesty International Report 2004, http://web.

2 Declarations and reservations to the Optional Protocol,

3 Information from UNICEF, 1999.

4 Amnesty International (AI), Sri Lanka: LTTE recruitment drive for child soldiers must stop, 11 October 2001,

5 AI, Sri Lanka: Government must investigate paramilitary group violations, 4 July 2001.

6 The Scotsman, "Tamil Tigers will stop using child soldiers", 10 February 2003.

7 Human Rights Watch, Sri Lanka: Human rights and the peace process, Briefing Paper, July 2002,

8 UNICEF, Action plan for children affected by war: Progress report 2003.

9 A. Jayesinghe, "Tamil Tigers abduct 23 students after freeing child soldiers", AFP, 6 October 2003.

10 Confidential source, 10 March 2004.

11 UNICEF, Action plan, op. cit., and End of year gender analysis, 2003.

12 University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR) (Jaffna), The plight of child conscripts, social degradation and anti-Muslim frenzy, Special Report No. 14, 20 July 2002,

13 UTHR, Child conscription and peace: A tragedy of contradictions, Special Report No. 16, 18 March 2003.

14 The Island, "Hand over son or face death, LTTE threatens mother", 19 February 2003.

15 Asia Child Rights Weekly Newsletter, "Sri Lanka: LTTE continues to build its child army unperturbed by peace talks", Vol. 2 No. 17, 23 April 2003,

16 UTHR, Child conscription and peace, op. cit.

17 AFP, "Strike grips northeast Sri Lanka after child conscription charge", 17 February 2003.

18 L. Beck, "Child abductions haunt Sri Lanka's mothers", Reuters/Dawn (Pakistan), 23 July 2003, htm.

19 UTHR, Rewarding tyranny: Undermining the democratic potential for peace, Special Report No. 17, 7 October 2003.

20 Confidential source, 8 February 2004.

21 Confidential source, March 2004.

22 C. Liyanaarachchi, "Sri Lankan rebels still recruit child soldiers", One World South Asia, 20 January 2003, posted at (Bulletin No. 31, Press clippings).

23 Confidential source, 29 March 2004.

24 UTHR, The plight of child conscripts, op. cit.

25 Asia Child Rights Weekly Newsletter, "Sri Lanka: Child Soldier Dies in LTTE Camp (News)", Vol. 2 No. 13, 26 March 2003.

26 UNICEF, Action plan, op. cit.

27 A. Jayasinghe, "Tamil Tiger child soldiers begin landmark demobilization", AFP, 3 October 2003, posted at

28 Confidential source, 10 March 2004.

29 UNICEF, Action plan, op. cit..

30 UNICEF press release, "UNICEF opens transit centre for child soldiers freed by LTTE", 3 October 2003; Communication with UNICEF, June 2004.

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