SRI LANKA: Responding to Vulnerabilities Affecting Children Continues to be Problematic in Sri Lanka

Thursday, May 12, 2011
Tamil Week
Southern Asia
Sri Lanka
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Children and armed conflict – Report of the Secretary-General

Every year the Secretary-General lists those parties to conflict who recruit and use, kill and maim or commit rape and other forms of sexual violence against children in conflict. The Annual Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict, issued today, gives an overview of the situation of children affected by conflict and action taken for their protection over the reporting period.

“2010 proved another tragic year for children in conflicts all over the world. We've taken no parties off of the list and added four more–two in Yemen and two in Iraq,” said Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy.

The report contains detailed information on violations against children in the following countries: Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, India, Iraq, Lebanon, Myanmar, Nepal, Occupied Palestinian Territories/Israel, Pakistan, Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, the Sudan, Southern border provinces of Thailand, Uganda and Yemen.

More specifically, the Annual Report includes preliminary details from 2010 about the post-election crisis in Côte d'Ivoire.

The following are excerpts from the report relating to Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka

In 2010, sustained efforts were made by the United Nations throughout the year to encourage the full implementation and completion of the action plan signed by the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulighal (TMVP), the Government of Sri Lanka and UNICEF in December 2008. The working group established in Batticaloa in January 2009, comprised of representatives from the local administration, the police, the Sri Lankan army, the Department of Probation and the United Nations, met on a monthly basis to follow up on their commitments in accordance with the action plan. Between June and July 2010, meetings were also held between the Police Department, Iniya Barrathi (former element of the Karuna faction) and the United Nations, to advocate and advance progress on the release of children who remain associated with the group. This resulted in an investigation being carried out on 30 August 2010 by the National Child Protection Authority and its police section, upon request of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to establish the whereabouts of these children. Although a request for a full investigation into allegations of recruitment and use of children by Iniya Barrathi was lodged with the Government after the visit of Special Envoy Patrick Cammaert, limited progress has been made to date.

Developments in Sri Lanka

Child recruitment has come to an end in Sri Lanka, with the last case reported in October 2009. This is owing both to the defeat and disbanding of LTTE, responsible for most of the child recruitment cases reported in Sri Lanka, and the commitments of the Government of Sri Lanka and TMVP to release children recruited previously by TMVP.

Nevertheless, the whereabouts of some children recruited by armed groups remain unknown, including some who are now adults.

With regard to LTTE, as at the end of December 2010, the number of persons unaccounted for was 1,373, including 15 who are still children. With regard to TMVP, the total number of pending cases is 13 boys, including 5 who were under the age of 18 years at the time of the signature of the TMVP action plan.

On 30 August 2010, upon the request of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Child Protection Authority and its police section, an investigation was initiated to establish the whereabouts of the five boys who remain associated with TMVP (former elements of Karuna faction, under the command of Iniya Barrathi). The National Child Protection Authority investigation, completed on 14 January 2011, could not ascertain the whereabouts of these missing persons. This is the case despite the fact that, according to the report of the Special Envoy of my Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict on his mission to Sri Lanka in February 2008, the abductions by the then Karuna faction took place exclusively in government-controlled areas.

The report pointed to the fact that these children spent time in one of several camps of the then Karuna faction near the town of Welikanda (Polonnaruwa district), located in a government-controlled area.

The Authority concluded with a recommendation to further investigate on the basis of information provided by families of the missing boys, as well as by a former LTTE member who was reportedly responsible for child abduction and recruitment in the past. The report of the National Child Protection Authority also recommended death certificates be issued for these persons, which, in accordance with Sri Lankan law, can be done once a person has been missing for over seven years.

However, these 13 boys were abducted and last seen between 2006 and 2009, which is at most five years ago. It is hoped that Parliamentary Bill No. 52, which allows registration of death after one year owing to terrorist or subversive activities, would not prevent further investigations into these cases. In addition, the National Child Protection Authority investigation did not make any reference to Iniya Barrathi or his involvement in the recruitment or abduction of the missing persons. At the time of writing, no prosecution against persons allegedly responsible for child recruitment has been initiated, and repeated appeals to open a case against Iniya Barrathi for child recruitment by the United Nations country team and the Office of my Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict have not been actioned.

In 2010, 28 incidents related to mine and explosive remnants of war were recorded, killing 5 children and injuring 16, including 5 girls (compared to 12 child casualties in 2009). Nevertheless, the casualty rate remains relatively low, especially in the light of the high level of contamination in returnee areas. The presence of approximately 585 suspicious items were reported by communities, which were subsequently removed by demining agencies during the reporting period.

There were allegations of sexual violence across the four districts in the north (Killinochchi, Mullativu, Vavuniya and Mannar) among the displaced communities. Women and girls have reported lack of safety owing to the presence of members of the Sri Lankan Army or local officials, some of whom have been reported to have returned to the communities at night wearing civilian clothes and requesting sexual favours. However, protection monitoring and participatory assessments suggest that incidents of sexual violence remain underreported for fear of retribution by perpetrators.

The situation of schools that were occupied and used by the Sri Lanka security forces improved in 2010, although a number of schools remain affected. The schools are used for a variety of purposes, such as barracks for the Sri Lanka security forces, as transit sites for displaced persons who have left the IDP camps but cannot yet return to their places of origin (mostly owing to the presence of mines and explosive remnants of war), or to detain adult “separatees” (persons identified by the Sri Lanka security forces as formerly associated with LTTE but not formally charged).

Sustained advocacy was undertaken with the relevant local and national military and civilian authorities to resolve this issue, and the Government has made repeated commitments to resolve the situation.

Access for humanitarian partners is progressively improving, although difficulties continued to be experienced on several occasions. In particular, the strict implementation of Ministry of Defence orders requiring clearances to access conflict-affected areas across the Northern Province for all United Nations agencies, international organizations and international and national NGOs that was implemented in June 2010 delayed implementation of some projects in the region.

Following engagement, including with the Presidential Task Force for Resettlement, Development and Security in the Northern Province, the United Nations is now in possession of clearance for six months at a time, and NGOs have obtained permissions for varying durations.

However, this process has resulted in delays and disruption in the implementation of some activities at a critical time of the return process of displaced persons, and has had a direct impact on child protection projects. The approval of most child protection projects, including support to communities to prevent, identify and respond to vulnerabilities and issues affecting children, continues to be problematic.

On a positive note, following discussions on the Government-led Joint Plan for Assistance for the Northern Province for 2011, child protection activities were included as a priority.

The Government established a family tracing and reunification unit for unaccompanied and separated children in Vavuniya (Northern Province) on 22 December 2009. As at the end of December 2010, 662 requests for tracing missing children (including 293 girls) had been filed by parents and families, 21 of which have been reunified and 32 are in the process of reunification. The verification of an additional number of cases is in progress. In 2010, the unit also developed a plan to undertake tracing activities in hospitals, children homes and
police posts across Sri Lanka.