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Last modified on: 12/30/2010 11:37:48 PM Address by HE President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the launch of the Sri Lanka National Campaign against the Recruitment of Children for Use in Armed Conflict

Address by HE President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the launch of the Sri Lanka National Campaign against the Recruitment of Children for Use in Armed Conflict

Presidential Secretariat, Colombo February 26th 2009

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

We meet today to launch an important campaign, one of the most important campaigns for the future of our society. There are many who would say that this should have been launched earlier. But, even at this late stage this is something we owe to our children, who will be our future, and for whom we must be ready to make the biggest sacrifices.

Today we launch the Sri Lanka National Campaign Against the Recruitment of Children for Use in Armed Conflict. The image of Sri Lanka, for far too long, has been stained by the presence of Child Soldiers in our country. We have been disgraced by being banded with other countries where this dreadful practice exists, and it is time for us to erase that stain on our country and nation. A stain that has not come through official policy, but through the acts of those who use terror against the state.

But, more important than erasing the stain in our image, is the need to save our children from this special horror of terror, the most savage of the chosen weapons of terror, that has been the menace of our society for nearly three decades.

My dear friends,

If we are late in acting to save these suffering children, it is because we have been made to believe for too long in the possibility of reasonable and humane action, by the perpetrators of this terror directed at our children. It is not that we ever trusted them, but you know how they were trusted by others who entered into various agreements with them. It is only later they realized that any agreement with them was not even worth the paper it was signed on. Unfortunately, we are still urged to come to agreement with these agents of terror. The whole world knows that the strategists of LTTE terror continue to hold Tamil civilians hostage for their cause and have increased the recruitment of children to carry arms for terror.

We launch this campaign after the failure of the United Nations to get any agreement from the LTTE that it would put an end to child conscription. We launch this long after the UN Special Representative on Children in Combat failed in his efforts to get the LTTE to release the child soldiers. This launch is also after the terrorist leaders of the LTTE refused to honour the pledges given to the United Nations about the release of child soldiers. We act after the UNICEF has failed to get the LTTE to release the child soldiers they still hold.

My dear friends,

The LTTE, in keeping with its policy of terror, refuses to listen to the appeals by the world to stop the use of children in any sort of armed combat. UNICEF now reports and this is confirmed by other reliable reports, too that the LTTE has increased the forcible recruitment of children into its ranks. It is, therefore, time for us to launch this campaign on behalf of the children of our Tamil parents in the North, who are forced into helpless silence, as their so-called liberators seize their children to carry arms in the battle front.

It is difficult today to give an accurate number of children forced into armed conflict in our country. Before 2003, it had been estimated that of nearly 14,000 strong LTTE fighters, nearly 60 per cent or 8,500 were children under18 years. Even the media was happy to refer to them as the "Baby Brigade". Recruitment of children took place in both the North and the East. Later, there was more reliable information when parents reported to UNICEF offices of the forcible recruitment of children for combat.

According to the latest figures - in December 2008 - the total under age - that is under 18 years - recruitment by the LTTE is 6, 288. Of this 3,809 are boys and 2,478 are girls. There are claims that 2059 such children, or those recruited as children, have been released. But this requires better verification.

I am particularly pleased that the Honourable Chief Minister of the Eastern Province is here. He knows very well what it is to be a child soldier. I am sure we will have his fullest support to eliminate this menace of child soldiers in Sri Lanka.

Yet, as much as the military campaign to eradicate terrorism has slowed down due to the concern we have for the lives of civilians the LTTE is holding as human buffers and shields in the tiny pocket they are confined to, there is also the mounting concern for the children that are forced to carry arms for them.

It is necessary to know why the LTTE needs these children to be in their ranks. One reason is the rapid drop in adult fighters, driven out of the fight by our heroic troops. The other is that children will obey through fear and intimidation, even though brought in by kidnapping and abduction, or threats to their parents. The older children may even be "brain-washed", "motivated" or "misled" through deliberate efforts to glorify war, violence, and martyrdom for a cause.

My dear friends,

The Children in armed combat in Sri Lanka have been snatched from their parents; they have been forcibly removed from their teachers, their classrooms, their schools, their friends and relations, and their playgrounds. They have been denied the learning that all children are entitled to. They are deprived the play that all other children enjoy. They do not have the warmth of their parents and the guidance of their teachers and this is a tragedy we cannot tolerate any longer.

For long enough we have seen the manipulators of terror mould the tender minds of our children I repeat, the tender minds of our children, for they are all our children; by propaganda to carry out acts of violence, putting them at risk of death and disability. They have been robbed of what our society invests for their future in free education, free health, and all other child-centered services.

With the campaign we launch today, we will begin to give voice to those thousands of Tamil parents who have been compelled to watch this sad plight of their offspring, their hopes for the future being ruthlessly destroyed. We will join them and give them strength. We will make sure that our fight to eradicate terrorism, goes hand in hand, with the fight to free our children from being robots of terror.

I call upon all of Sri Lanka to join this cause, to be part of this campaign, to make your voices heard and your peaceful and determined actions seen the world over as we seek to liberate the future of our land, and to free our children from having to carry arms for anyone, in any conflict, anywhere.

In this great cause, May you all receive the Blessings of the Noble Triple Gem!

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