A way out for Sri Lanka’s child soldiers
RANJENDRAN HAS the acne and somewhat awkward gait of many a 17-year-old schoolboy. He has already completed is O-Levels and is studying for his A-Level examinations, the local equivalent of the Leaving Certificate. He says he would like to be a teacher in the future, an aspiration that possibly comes from having his own childhood brutally cut short.
Ranjendran pulls up his sleeve to reveal a fearful scar arching down his forearm, just below the elbow. “I still have problems. I can’t do any heavy work,” he says, adding that “the doctor is very sure I will recover though”.
Ranjendran is one of 112 teenagers at Ambepussa camp, a government-run rehabilitation centre set up last March with assistance from the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).
Many of the children arrived in the last few months as the government’s war against the Tamil Tigers reached its apocalyptic conclusion. In the weeks before the government declared victory over the Tigers, killing its leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran and most of his deputies, the rebel outfit press-ganged children as young as 12 and 13 into battle as its area of control shrank into a small strip of coastal territory.
In March, Ranjendran was taken from the bunker where his family sheltered as government artillery pounded down on the Tiger-held district of Mullaitivu.
“I met Bhanu ” says Ranjendran. “He told us we had to struggle against the government. There were 75 children in my group. I do not know what happened to most of them.” Ranjendran says he received his bullet wound when he and some other boys escaped from the “training camp” where they were being detained.
“It was about two in the afternoon,” he says. “Altogether, five of us made the attempt. Only two escaped, another boy and myself – one boy was shot and fell, and may have been killed. Two were recaptured.”
Most Recommended Comment
Voth, Texas, United States