Monday, February 25, 2008

Sri Lanka: Where men talk of final solutions and mothers weep for their children

Children play in a child-friendly space in a Batticaloa District camp for displaced people in eastern Sri Lanka

Children in Sri Lanka are increasingly being killed and injured and having their education disrupted as bomb attacks blamed on the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) as well as government security forces drive families from their homes in search of safety.

At least 21 children are known to have died since the beginning of this year in assaults in the northern and southern parts of the island. Most were killed after the government called off a 2002 ceasefire with the Tamil Tigers on 16 January.

“The trend of targeting civilians has escalated dramatically over the past few weeks. Claymore attacks on civilians in many parts of Sri Lanka … have resulted in innocent children dying and also losing their parents and families,” according to a statement by Save the Children.

“We are asking for increased protection for children and urging all parties to the conflict to respect human life,” said Menaca Calyaneratne, spokeswoman for the NGO. “They have to put the welfare of children high on the agenda.”

The death toll for children has not been collated separately since fighting escalated in December 2005. However, according to the defence ministry, between December 2005 and September 2007, 860 civilians, 1,271 government security personnel and 3,284 Tamil Tigers died. More than 180 civilians have died this year, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Population movements

In recent months, humanitarian agencies have been reporting that people have been leaving their homes in the northwest of the island where ongoing government military operations are intensifying, with ground and aerial attacks on areas held by the Tamil Tigers.

After pushing back the rebels in the eastern Batticaloa and Trincomalee Districts last year, the government has vowed to wrest back territory in the north, where the LTTE has its headquarters.

According to the latest Interagency Standing Committee (IASC) situation report, almost 32,000 families in the northern war zone districts of Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Mannar have sought shelter elsewhere. A rough estimate - based on two to three children per family - puts the number of children displaced in these areas at about 64,000.

“When children are displaced, their education suffers. There is a tendency for these children to drop out permanently if their schooling is disrupted even for a short while,” said Calyaneratne, adding that Save the Children had pushed for education facilities to be a part of the emergency response strategies of the government and relief agencies.

The authorities sometimes close schools in areas where bomb attacks have taken place. The LTTE too has stated that children in the war zones are traumatised by repeated aerial bombardment and that schools are forced to shut down.

Two major incidents that evoked public condemnation this month were a suicide bombing in the capital Colombo’s main railway station in which seven schoolboys and a schoolgirl died, and in Madhu in the northwest where 11 schoolgirls on a bus were killed in a Claymore mine explosion. The government blamed the LTTE for the first attack while the rebels charged that a covert army unit had carried out the second one.

Child soldiers

The UN children's fund says that although there has been a fall in the numbers of children reported as recruited by the LTTE and a breakaway faction, the Tamil People's Liberation Tigers (TMVP), almost 400 children remain within the ranks of the two armed groups. According to UNICEF, there are 196 children under 18 with the LTTE and 164 with the TMVP. The numbers, based on reports by parents and others, have been disputed by both the LTTE and the TMVP.

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via
IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.

Photo: Copyright
Save the Children