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Education And Debate

Child soldiers: understanding the context

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 25 May 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:1268

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Child soldiers in Sri Lanka

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (‘LTTE’ or ‘Tigers’) have a long
record of using child soldiers(1). Many, including international
organisations such as Amnesty International have expressly demanded that
Tigers should live upto their own pledge not to use child soldiers, cease
recruitment immediately, and return the children to their families(2).
Sadly, there is no real evidence that the Tigers have heeded such pleas.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (‘UNICEF’) too, have accused the Tigers
for breaking a commitment, not to recruit children for combat(3); some
pictures of ‘child soldiers’ could be seen in relation to the same

Whilst the author(4) systematically analyses the possible “push-pull”
factors that involve the recruitment of ‘child soldiers’, there is no hard
data to suggest as to what extent such factors actually contributed to
their joining the Tigers as ‘child soldiers’. In fact, there is evidence
that some children recruited by the Tigers are as young as nine years(1).
Given the vulnerability of a child at such young age, it is very likely
that deceit, entrapment, threats, and other physical & psychological
pressure tactics are the mainstay of attracting them into rebel cadres.

Despite nearly two decades of civil war, the Sri Lankan government
had taken some pro-active steps to rehabilitate captured ‘child soldiers’,
but sometimes, with tragic consequences(5). However, the author says, “In
the face of open recruitment of children, Tamil sociocultural and
religious instit
utions failed to protest”(1). If there has been such apathy on the part
of Tamil social and religious groups, then their genuine fear of
persecution by the Tigers would have been a strong reason; such fears
could be amply justified if one looks at the list of prominent Tamil
leaders killed by the Tigers(6), which includes the Human Rights lawyer,
Dr Neelam Thiruchelvam.

Perhaps, at the time of submitting this article(4) to the BMJ, the
ceasefire between the Sri Lankan government, and Tigers was not formally
implemented, but it is now. Further, formal negotiations between the
parties are to take place in a neutral country shortly. Let us hope, Sri
Lanka will finally see an end to this bloody conflict which it can no
longer afford, and unity will return.


(1) http://www.child-



(4) Somasundarm D .Child soldiers: understanding the context. BMJ



Competing interests: No competing interests

25 May 2002
Jay Ilangaratne