UN to probe child recruitment by LTTE
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UN to probe child recruitment by LTTE

LTTE still hires children for its combat units despite censure by several nations, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Sep 20, 2006 23:01 IST

The United Nations will soon be sending a high ranking official, Allan Rock, to Sri Lanka, with a specific mandate from the Secretary General to investigate the recruitment of child soldiers by the LTTE.

The UN's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Dr Radhika Coomarswamy, told the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in New York on Tuesday, that Rock would be conducting the investigation as a Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.

President Rajapaksa had told Dr Coomaraswamy that the LTTE was continuing to recruit children for its combat units despite censure by several countries.

Rajapaksa was in New York to attend the 61st session of the UN.

According to UN's own agencies, there are in the LTTE about 4,500 child soldiers (those under 17 years of age).

If 10,000 were taken as the strength of the LTTE's fighting force, nearly half are child or under age recruits.

But some sociologists like Michael Roberts would classify most of them as "young adults" rather than "children".

According to the Mumbai-based Strategic Foresight Group, 40 to 60 percent of the LTTE cadres who had died in battle were "children under the age of 17."

Patterns of child recruitment

Child recruitment does not take place all the time. It is need based.

Studies have shown that it increases in times of war and tapers off in times of peace or a ceasefire.

During war or hostilities, parents even gift their children to the LTTE. This is because the LTTE is seen as a force which is necessary to resist the depredations of the Sri Lankan armed forces.

But during ceasefires, they don't see the need to give their children and begin to resist if they were forced to.

Therefore, it is during peace or ceasefire that recruitment takes place through "abductions".

Child recruitment is also related to poverty. It is from the poor rural families from the war-devastated North East Sri Lanka that the recruits come.

Two decades of war in North East Sri Lanka has resulted in the area seeing little or no economic development. There is little trade, industry or agriculture. Schooling is also of a very inadequate.

Many families have only one parent because of deaths due to war and want.

Families see a career in the LTTE as a livelihood, as a means to give their children two square meals a day.

Also, the LTTE financially aids the immediate family of a cadre killed in battle. Such a family is given the title Maaveerar kutumbam (hero's family).

Releases make place for recruitment

Under mounting international pressure, the LTTE keeps saying that it will release the under-age cadres and it has indeed released many to the UNICEF since the February 2002 Ceasefire Agreement.

But recruitment too has been going on all the time, given the fact that the LTTE has been preparing for war.

Having fought a disastrous war in the last few weeks, leaving much territory to be recovered, the LTTE is expected to build up its fighting potential in the coming months.

This means that child recruitment is unlikely to abate, UN or no UN.

First Published: Sep 20, 2006 17:18 IST