Maxine Fay Miller
Child Soldiers and Victims of War
03 Jun 2009
Children as young as 11 were forced to fight for the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka’s 25 year civil war. If they refused to take a gun and fight they were threatened and told they would be shot.
One 16-year-old girl, Darchiga Kuken, was sheltering in a bunker in the Mullaitivu area when a group of about 20 Tamil Tiger soldiers arrived and demanded that she went with them despite being ill with chicken pox. She screamed to her parents to help her but there was nothing her family could do and she was pushed into a jeep and driven away.
According to Darchiga’s testimony, the Tigers warned every family that children who could carry a weapon were expected to join up, regardless of age. Children as young as 11 and 12 were taken away and turned into child soldiers.
Any children who tried to escape were fired on by their own side. Those recaptured had their hair shaved off to label them as deserters and recaptured boys were beaten.
Darchiga was forced to pick up a rifle and go forward to fight after only nine days of basic training. Two days after arriving on the front line she was shot in the stomach by the army. She was then left bleeding and in agony for four hours before being taken to hospital.
Darchiga is now being held in a "rehabilitation centre", a jungle camp built on a hillside outside the town of Ambepusse in the south of the country. The camp currently houses 95 children, with another 200 on their way from internment camps around the town of Vavuniya in the north of the country. Children who confess to LTTE (Tamil Tiger) membership, even if they had been coerced, are held there for a year.
The Sri Lankan President, ¬Mahinda Rajapaksa, claimed that the Tamil Tigers were defeated without inflicting civilian casualties. Undercover investigations have shown otherwise. One wounded 18-month-old toddler had been shot in the stomach in the final stages of the fighting in the north-east of the country and doctors had operated to remove the ¬bullet. Her right leg was missing a chunk of flesh.
This little girl is one of thousands of casualties hidden away from public view in hospitals across Sri Lanka guarded by soldiers and police. At the Lady Ridgeway hospital for children in Colombo there are children with amputated limbs, some children with both their legs or both arms amputated, others with gunshot wounds and burns. Wards are packed with the casualties of the war, with doctors struggling to cope with the sheer volume of casualties.
As soon as they are fit enough to be moved, the injured are returned to the grim internment camps that are home to approximately 300,000 people.
According to unofficial UN ¬figures more than 8,000 civilians were killed in the last four months of the war and more than 17,000 were wounded. Some 3,600 children were killed and 7,650 wounded, some later died because of a lack of medical treatment. The figures do not include those killed and injured in the final three days of the fighting.
Despite the evidence for these horrific crimes to children and accusations that the Sri Lankan military has committed war crimes by firing on civilians the UN human rights council has recently rejected a call for an investigation into allegations of war crimes by both sides. The UN has instead accepted an alternative Sri Lankan government resolution describing the conflict as a "domestic matter that doesn't warrant outside interference".
Children have been used in wars throughout the centuries and ten years ago international guidelines were established to stamp out the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Despite this the Human Rights Watch, an organization for human rights, estimate that 200 000 to 300 000 children are still actively being recruited in at least 20 countries around the world including Afghanistan, Burundi, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Burma, Nepal, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. It is estimated that 70, 000 boys serve in Burma’s National Army, some as young as 12 years, 11,000 children are currently involved with militias in Democratic Republic of Congo and children as young as eight are being recruited by the government army of Southern Sudan.
Child soldiers are subjected to brutal intimidation and then used on the frontline. Girls taken to become army 'wives' are often subjected to emotional, sexual and physical abuse. When released, ex-child soldiers are frequently rejected by society, refused access to school, and find it impossible to re-enter 'normal' life. Girls as young as 12 have had to deal with rape, and care for babies in isolation without any support from the community.
How can children caught up in war zones be protected from wars? Should there be any wars at all? What are your thoughts.