New beginning for child soldiers
With the country in the midst of celebrating the first
anniversary of the war victory the normalisation process too is
gradually gaining ground from all evidence that is before us.
This is not only with regard to the rebuilding of infrastructure
of the war battered landscape but also the rebuilding of the
shattered lives of the people of the North.
As already evident travel barriers to the North are a thing
of past. People from the South are flocking in their thousands
to places of worship and historical sites that they had only
read and heard of in the past. According to reports all hotels
and Guesthouses in the tourists spots in the North and East have
been over-booked for the prolonged Vesak holiday.
The North has become a hub of development while businessmen
and traders commute to and from the North and the South with
regular monotony. In short all the severed arteries that once
linked the two communities from the North and South are now in
However while enjoying the fruits of freedom in a tangible
form one tends to overlook the human misery and suffering that
overtook the people of the North and the pathos of their
heart-rending existence under the jackboot of a brutal terror.
We say this because the war has taken such heavy toll on the
lives of people in the North that for most the healing process
would be a long drawn out one while for others the scars of war
run so deep that the damage could be permanent. Therefore while
addressing the physical development of the Northern landscape
there is also a compelling need to heal the mental scars left
behind by the prolonged conflict speedily.
It is here that the Government should be commended for
addressing the human fall out of the war with the same urgency
it is addressing the physical side of developing the war ravaged
According to our lead story on Wednesday the last batch of
child soldiers comprising 108 boys and 90 girls were handed over
to their parents by the Rehabilitation Authority. In all, there
were 294 child soldiers who were undergoing rehabilitation and
96 of them were released earlier to their parents.
According to Commissioner General of Rehabilitation Brigadier
Sudantha Ranasinghe these child soldiers were given all the
necessary grounding to make them enter the mainstream of life
putting behind their harrowing ordeal. "They played cricket,
participated in camp fires, did scouting and learned a lot of
other skills like any other child would in a Colombo school.
They even went to McDonalds and enjoyed meals," he is quoted as
For them this will be a new beginning away from the bunkers.
Whereas before, their life was a gamble, today they have been
given the opportunity to savour a new life and the freedom to
revel in the joys of youth that was cruelly plucked away from
President Mahinda Rajapaksa had pardoned these hapless
victims and given them all the facilities to restart life on a
clean slate. He should be saluted for this singular achievement
of giving back the lives of these child soldiers who were
condemned to a premature death.
But for the military victory over the LTTE these children who
are between the ages of 12 and 17 would still have been held in
LTTE gulags until the time came to lay down their lives for an
Utopian dream. This is indeed a telling indictment on those
Western countries who advocated negotiations to end the war and
spare further bloodshed. In a sense it is a paradox that peace
negations failed to end the killings while the military option
succeeded to rescue all those condemned to die such as these
hapless child soldiers of whom no NGO who were quick to accuse
the military of battlefield atrocities, gave a damn.
In this regard it is also opportune to recall the efforts
made by UN special rapporteur on children affected by war, Olara
Otunu to secure the release of child soldiers in the days of the
Ceasefire agreement. Despite the assurance given by the LTTE to
send them to their parents it turned out to be yet another empty
promise of the outfit. Now they are free thanks to the steps
taken to militarily crush the LTTE.
What is now needed is proper follow up action to ensure these
children make the best use of their newfound freedom. No doubt
among them would be talented youth who were rudely deprived of
an education to exploit their talents.
These one time child soldiers who have now received a fresh
lease of life should be afforded the proper guidance to make the
optimum use of their new lease of life and be productive
citizens who will be assets to the nation.