Aren’t children’s lives precious?

UNICEF is reported to have taken umbrage over the exposure by the government of the identities of some LTTE child combatants. It is doubtful whether the spin doctors of the government are au fait with the international standards as regards reporting on those unfortunate children. Or, they may have thrown caution to the winds in a bid to gain some mileage by exposing the LTTE’s cruelty to children in the on-going propaganda battle. The identification of child combatants is an offence which is perhaps second in severity only to their forcible conscription in that, once their identities are exposed, they have to live with the stigma attached to their past for the rest of their lives even after rehabilitation. They shouldn’t be made to suffer for no fault of theirs.

The law forbids the identification of an abused child or provision of any clue to his or her identity. The child combatants who are also victims of child abuse must be protected in a similar manner. The consternation of UNICEF over the government propagandists’ faux pas is justifiable. The government should have known better!

Similarly, it behoves UNICEF to go the whole hog in liberating child soldiers without confining its campaign to statements expressing concern, reports and other gimmicks. We have enough and more NGOs to do that. They will churn out any number of reports replete with graphics on any subject under the sun if the right price is quoted.

First of all, UNICEF must ensure that the UN Security Council will adopt stern measures to remove the scourge of child abductions, based on its recommendations. Mere listing of perpetrators is the least effective way of delivering children from their clutches. What action has the UN taken against those organisations on its List of Shame for harming children? It has done precious little except firing paper missiles at the organisations concerned, that too half-heartedly. The UN even allows its functionaries in the very countries where those crimes are committed to hobnob with the sympathizers and propagandists of child abductors. What goes on in Colombo is a case in point. They are so influential that when an LTTE leader in the Eastern Province was killed sometime ago, they made the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan issue a condolence message making a mockery of the UN stand on child recruitment. Thus, the UN has been condemning and helping sanitise the LTTE simultaneously.

The UN named Karuna a few moons ago for recruiting children and has remained less vocal on the issue ever since as if it believed that two wrongs make a right. Anyone who harms children, be it Prabhakran or Karuna must be exposed and action taken against him.

UNICEF must go north in a bigger way. It is nothing but plain stupidity for it to seek the LTTE’s help any longer to secure the release of the children in its ranks. The UN mustn’t offer itself to be taken for a ride once again. It blundered very badly by establishing a number of transit homes in collaboration with the LTTE to rehabilitate child combatants. The scheme caved in a few weeks later as the LTTEreneged on its promise to release child soldiers. The need for UNICEF involvement in the North is felt more than ever, as the LTTE is stepping up child recruitment as cannon fodder.

There has been a call from certain quarters for setting up a UN monitoring mission in the conflict zone. But, why don’t they make a concerted effort to jolt the existing UN organs in the country into action without dissipating their energies on controversial projects that will be detrimental to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty?

Let pressure be brought to bear on UNICEF to carry out its duties and functions properly in all parts of the country.

The international community is pressuring the government to ensure the rule of law. There cannot be any argument about that. Disappearances, extra judicial killings, intimidations etc. must cease forthwith. By the same token, an early end must be put to the crimes against children as well. It is intriguing why the international community is fighting shy of championing the cause of children the way it should. Is it that the international do-gooders don’t care whether the rule of law is respected or not as regards children? They just looked the other way, it may be recalled, when two officers from the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) who were pursuing a foreign paedophile in the Northern Province were captured and held by the LTTE. After all, they were too timid to protest against the abduction and detention of two UN employees in the Wanni, weren’t they?

When 17 aid workers were massacred in the Eastern Province, the international community rightly campaigned for a probe and is keeping a vigilant eye on how it is being conducted.

If only it evinced the same interest in saving child soldiers!


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