-“GOLDA, so tell me something. What would Jesus have done?”

SPECIAL REPORT

“Child soldiers are ideal because they don’t complain, they don’t expect to be paid, and if you tell them to kill, they kill.”

Senior officer in the Chadian National Army (HRW, Early to war – Child Soldiers in the Chad Conflict, July 2007)

Alan March 2009By Alan Simons

Tamil child soldiers (spur.asn.au)

Tamil child soldiers (spur.asn.au)

MAY 21, 2009 – As Jews, many of us are familiar with Golda Meir’s now famous 1957 quotation “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”

Yet children throughout the world continue to be used by tyrannical régimes as human shields, be abducted, killed, raped, and have learned to kill for their despot masters, all in the name of religion, liberation, love, freedom and independence,

And at this time, nowhere is this more abhorrent and confusing than in Sri Lanka.

Yesterday, the British NGO group Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers reported:

Children under-18 are being abducted from refugee camps and from Vavuniya town in northern Sri Lanka by paramilitary groups who enjoy tacit support from the Sri Lankan government. The last phase of fighting in Sri Lanka has had a catastrophic impact on children.

Paramilitary groups such as the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and Tamil People’s Liberation Tigers (TMVP)-Karuna faction have apparently unhindered access to the IDP camps in Vavuniya, despite the presence of the Sri Lankan military which is responsible for protecting these camps. According to humanitarian workers, most of the abductions are reported at night when scrutiny is minimal. Children as young as 12 years have been abducted. The precise motives for abduction remain unclear. Some children appear to have been abducted for alleged links with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), while others are kidnapped for ransom.

There are fears for the safety of former LTTE child soldiers at military screening check points at Velikulam, Killinochchi, Omanthai and Pulmuddai and in military detention centers where they are allegedly taken for questioning. All those fleeing the armed conflict must pass through the check points where LTTE members are identified and, in the case of child soldiers, transferred to rehabilitation centres. In the absence of independent monitoring of the screening process there are fears that children are at risk of human rights abuses including arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance.

In the east, there are sporadic reports of child recruitment by the TMVP. However, reporting of child recruitment continues to be low because of high levels of fear and the absence of effective monitoring mechanisms. The former head of the TMVP V. Muralitharan (known as Colonel Karuna), was an LTTE commander in the east responsible for recruiting thousands of children into the LTTE before 2004. He subsequently recruited children into the ranks of the breakaway TMVP. He joined the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) in 2008 and was appointed Minister of National Integration and Reconciliation in the Sri Lankan government in April 2009.

Last year, according to Human Rights Watch research, Myanmar was believed to be the country that had the largest number of child soldiers in the world, with “tens of thousands” of children likely recruited as soldiers in that country alone.

Perhaps it’s fitting for us to hear what one 16-year-old African girl after demobilization from an armed group had to say:

“I feel so bad about the things that I did. It disturbs me so much that I inflicted death on other people. When I go home I must do some traditional rites because I have killed. I must perform these rites and cleanse myself. I still dream about the boy from my village that I killed. I see him in my dreams, and he is talking to me, saying I killed him for nothing, and I am crying.” (Source: U.S. State Dept. TIP Report 2005)

As we complain of how our children screen our telephone calls to them, or whine that our grandchildren never contact us, perhaps this weekend, we can take the time to open our hearts to the hundreds and thousands of children in the world, such as this young girl. ‘

If you have the passion and want to do something to stop the use of child soldiers, please leave a comment for me.

The Global Report, published every three to four years by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, documents military recruitment legislation and child soldier use by Governments and armed groups in 197 countries. The report can be read at  www.child-soldiers.org

UPDATE

N’DJAMENA, 27 May 2009 (IRIN) – At least 85 minors are among 212 suspected rebels imprisoned by the Chadian government after recent clashes between rebels and the army in eastern Chad, according to UN Children’s Fund officials, who have visited the children.

After discussions with the government over access to the detainees, UNICEF officials on 26 May visited the prison to look into how many are under 18 and therefore protected by an international convention on child rights, which Chad has ratified.

“We discussed and agreed upon a preliminary list of 85 eligible children, including 12 who are wounded and receiving medical care,” UNICEF-Chad representative Marzio Babille told IRIN on 26 May. “In the next 24 to 48 hours we will pave the way for the [young detainees’] quick handover and a future free from fear.”

On 27 May a UNICEF team returned to the prison to continue the verification process, according to Babille. UNICEF will place juvenile detainees in transit centres operated by non-profit CARE international in the capital N’djamena.

Babille praised the government for its prompt response to UNICEF’s appeal and for allowing access to the detainees.

UNICEF is determined “to help the children reintegrate into their families and society, and to follow up on their reintegration to avoid the risk of rejoining [armed groups], Babille said in the communiqué.

The Chad government and rebel groups have agreed on paper that children should not be part of any armed forces, but aid workers in Chad say the recruitment of children into armed groups continues and is thought to have increased with recent instability in the country.

The government in 2007 signed an agreement with UNICEF to end the use of children in armed forces or groups.

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