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'Hundreds of children still missing in Lanka'

Hundreds of children continue to be missing or remain separated from their parents in the refugee camps for the displaced Tamils in northern Sri Lanka, the United Nations (UN) said today, reports Sutirtho Patranobis.

world Updated: Dec 12, 2009 01:12 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Hundreds of children continue to be missing or remain separated from their parents in the refugee camps for the displaced Tamils in northern Sri Lanka, the United Nations (UN) said on Friday.

Tracking missing children becomes difficult as families are scattered across camps and the government should take the help of the UN agencies and the International Committee for Red Cross (ICRC) to reunite them, general (retired) Patrick Cammaert, UN special envoy of the special representative of the secretary-general for children and armed conflict, said.

`` (But) the number (of missing children) is gradually going down,'' he said, adding that UN agencies and ICRC should have access to registration data of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) to accelerate the process.

Cammaert was interacting with the press after a five-day visit to refugee camps and rehabilitation facilities for child soldiers across Sri Lanka.

The former Dutch Marine Corps general said several children he met in Ampara district of eastern Sri Lanka told him about ``re-recruitment'' fears after their release from rehabilitation camps. Cammaert said he also came across ``isolated cases'' of new recruitment of children by groups. ``It is unclear who is recruiting the children. Police are investigating the cases,'' he said, adding that there was no evidence that the children were being recruited for arms training. ``But it was important enough to flag it,'' Cammaert said.

The UN envoy said attorney general Mohan Peiris had assured him that children associated with armed groups would be treated as victims and would not be prosecuted. ``Their number is between 600 and 700. They will be able to start without stigma, on a clean slate,'' Cammaert said.

He also emphasised the ``special needs'' of the ``significant number of young people who were abducted by armed groups when they were minors and who are now above 18 years of age.'' Cammaert said the government should initiate a dialogue to formulate a policy for them.