Kid stuff

There is no doubt that children are great fighters. They are easy to indoctrinate and will follow blindly where their heroes lead. When children fight in a war, it is a sign of the complete breakdown of all things moral. Children in armed combat are clearly vulnerable to manipulation by adult soldiers and commanders. They often resort to joining the battle not because of a burning desire to serve the cause, but because they have few other options. Some weeks ago, Sri Lanka´s Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar issued a severe rebuke to the Director of UNICEF in Sri Lanka. UNICEF, the only UN organisation dedicated exclusively to children, has a great track record, and a web page that says that "recruiting children into armed forces or sending them into combat situations of any kind should be considered a war crime by the proposed international criminal court".

What occasioned the dressing down from the foreign minister? After the recent battle of Kilinochchi, 26 fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) surrendered their arms. Many of them were under 15. Article 38 of the Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC) states that children under 15 should not be used in war. (The international community is now, albeit somewhat late in the day, advocating an Optional Protocol to raise the legal age for war to 18.) In employing child soldiers, the LTTE had clearly violated children´s rights and the Sri Lankan government wanted this to be obvious to everyone. But UNICEF refused to issue an official statement condemning the LTTE´s actions.

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Himal Southasian