Thursday, April 07, 2005

The hidden toll of the tsunami

Associated Press reported on April 5 that UNICEF alleges Tamil Tiger rebels have recruited 106 children into their ranks since the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami, in some cases taking young recruits directly from relief camps. UNICEF said some of the new recruits had been taken from tsunami relief camps in the Tamil- majority north and east of Sri Lanka - parts of which are under guerrilla control.

UNICEF considers those under 18 to be children. "We have been in touch with the LTT (Liberation Tigers of Tamileelam) about the release of the children but we have not received any firm guarantees as yet," the UNICEF representative (Vergara) said.

There was no immediate response from the rebels, but the Tigers have repeatedly denied actively recruiting children, saying that any minor who joins their forces does so because of poverty or the loss of parents.

In 2003 the rebels agreed with both UNICEF and the Sri Lankan government to discharge all child fighters to rehabilitation centers, where they could receive care and counseling to help them rejoin society.

But the U.N. agency has accused the insurgents of reneging on their promise. Since the agreement the rebels have recruited 1,892 children, Vergara said. Since the rebels signed a truce with the Sri Lankan government in 2002, more than 3,500 children have been enlisted by the insurgents, according to human rights groups.

Children accounted for a staggering 40 percent, or 12,000, of Sri Lanka 's tsunami death toll of at least 31,000. Nearly 1 million people have been left homeless.

A key indicator of social dysfunction is child abuse. Our humanity is diminished and our future threatened by the brutalisation of children. The next generation of terrorists are nurtured in the process. If international human rights instruments (eg. UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child and Universal Declaration of Human Rights) are ignored by rich and powerful countries in the name of national security, what chance do poor countries under stress have?

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