26 September, 2020

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Child Soldiers, A Stolen Innocence

By Kamaya Jayatissa

Kamaya Jayatissa

Kamaya Jayatissa

“When I’m gone, release me. Let me go.

I have so many things to see and do.”

– Excerpt from ‘Butterfly’

Even today too little is been said about them. Yet, they lived as fighters and died as children in a war they knew nothing about, in a war they had nothing to do with in the first place.

Vishnu Vasu’s documentary poem, Butterfly, is a remarkable tribute to those thousands of child soldiers who died in vain, as well as those who survived despite circumstances. It is also about a filmmaker’s humble journey in finding closure and breaking the silence around what must be remembered as the darkest years of our history. Through this piece I do not intent to review the movie as I feel that no word could match the emotion, humanity and cruel reality depicted through Vasu’s lens. But I do wish to invite those who still haven’t done so to watch ‘Butterfly’.

We all heard at some point of the many tragedies gone through by child soldiers in Sri Lanka; 40% of whom were girls. But we never really got to hear their stories. We never got to hear their fears, their sorrows or even their courage and their hopes. Some had joined the LTTE out of extreme poverty, some out of anger/revenge or simply because they wanted to experience the thrill of holding a gun. Others were abducted and forcefully recruited into the LTTE’s baby brigade before they were turned into innocent killers. It didn’t really matter how old they were. The LTTE training would start at 3 in the morning and would go on with no rest till 11 in the night, as described in the narrative. Those who disobeyed were punished, both verbally and physically.

Those who run off from the training camps were sometimes trapped back in the nets of the militants, often tortured, humiliated and forever deprived of their childhood. Boys, girls, all of them had their heads shaved in order to be easily identified. Villagers, sometimes even relatives, would often report it to the Tigers whenever they came across an escaped child. This was, for them, the only way to save their own child. Insensitivity, as one of the survivors says, appeared as common among the people. Some, however, did risk their lives to save those children of war.

With Butterfly, Vishnu Vasu gave a voice to those children who were forced to give up their innocence to a cause unknown…children whom we failed to save. But he also paid homage to those helpless parents who resisted and sacrificed their life trying to preserve the lives and innocence of their children. Some hid their children in suitcases and carried them on their head. Others sent their child to the forest, or even buried them in order to hide them from LTTE recruiters. Yet, many were those who could not save their child:

First they came for my son. He died. Then they came for my son-in-law. He died too. Finally they came for my daughter. I pleaded at their feet. But they dragged her away like an animal. The memory of my children haunts me all day long. I feel like ending myself. But I have no choice. I have to live for my grandkids. I am the grandmother of these three innocent kids.” (Testimony excerpt from ‘Butterfly’)

Having to make up for the lost cadres, child-soldiers were often sent to the front line with a cyanide capsule attached around their neck (this practice intensified during the last phases of the conflict). None of them wanted to die. None of them wanted to kill either. They simply had no choice but to obey the rules in order to stay alive. Systematic conscription of children as combatants was one of the worst forms of crimes committed by the LTTE. The fact that the CFA did not contain any provision to put an end to this practice demonstrated a clear weakness in our legal framework.

Today, although Sri Lanka was de-listed by the UN from the ‘List of Shame’, although all ex-child combatants were rehabilitated, reintegrated and provided with formal education, we must remember the stories of this ‘lost generation’; for they did not deserve any of the sufferings they went through. Most of those who survived are now young adults. Some are married or widowed. Others are orphans and/or parents. Their testimonies would haunt anyone who would take the time to listen to them. Their resilience would surprise many of us. But their childhood would always remain a mere shadow that they would forever drag in a harrowing swamp of suppressed memory, muddied with blood.

“Don’t tie yourself with many tears to me.

I gave you my life to a cause unknown.

 

Now let me rest.

Now let me fly.

Fly away from you.

 

Fly away to a place so serene,

I will be born a butterfly.”

(Excerpt from ‘Butterfly’)

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Latest comments

  • 4
    1

    Thank You Kamini for writing the article. The issue of child soldiers has been a forgotten one. LTTE was a brutal outfit and they DID conscript little children to fulfill the blood thirsty ideologies of their leaders.

    It is also important to identify the child soldiers and to have psychologists taking a look at them before they commit similar crimes in the future.

    The government should go the extra mile in giving them preference and assisting them to build a decent life. Free education, technical training and creating job opportunities etc., would be a positive step in the reconciliation effort too

  • 1
    7

    The actions of those Buddhist State extremist made child soldiers. You better try to teach the ordinary sinhalese than doing stupid rehablitation stuff. Those idiots in this government should be rehablitated; not LTTE cadres.

    This land is our land
    Crossing our borders,
    who came at us?
    Water, we have in abundance
    Fertile land, we have in abundanceThis land is our land
    Crossing our borders,
    who came at us?
    Water, we have in abundance
    Fertile land, we have in abundance

    She was born in the idyllic village of thiriyai
    In the year it was burned down in 1985
    Yo her ammaa and appaa were cruelly burned alive
    Her sister was raped right in front of her eyes
    She was raised in the Vanni where she finally learnt to fight
    To liberate our land, and to liberate our rights
    Never thinking twice, living life of sacrifice
    When the strife was rife, she cut like knife in paradise
    With a hand on the gun, making army man run
    stunned, and left numb, with every battle that they won
    In the ceasefire, she fell in love with a guy
    A former cadre who lost his eyes in a fight
    His name was Seelan, barely breathing. nursed him back & gave him meaning
    He joined the movement as a student and was always prudent
    lost his vision, giving mission without inhibition, position
    fighting division, so listen he gave tuition
    To children that couldn’t afford tuition or a pot to piss in
    He kept on giving, gave a gift, made his life worth living
    She gave birth to baby girl that’s pretty
    In the city of Kili, he named the child kayalvizhi

    They never had much, but in love they had enough
    Living in a mudhut, in a state that’s not corrupt
    Plus, they lived in freedom in Eelam from army demons
    Ceasefire got them dreaming that peace would finally see them
    Walking hand in hand, over free soil and sand
    Liberated land, land liberated by their hand
    And, they built a bank, police force and courts of law
    Independent state is what they’re dying fighting for
    Time flowing like a river, watch her daughter growing bigger
    With Vigour, normal life is all they ever want to give her
    A Playful child, always happy, playing in the wild
    While her appaa made her smile, he was never in denial
    Life wasn’t to be, though blind Seelan could see
    That she, would one day have to pick the gun and just leave
    Out of the blue, the tigers then split in two
    and the karuna group, caused the war to break through
    2009, called back to the frontline
    The black clouds had come, there’s was no more sunshine
    Giving her kin one last kiss goodbye
    Not knowing, whether she would ever, live or die

    Her body froze, laying on the floor, with no clothes
    All she see is hundred toes, surrounded by ten foes
    As they yelled ‘you Thamil ho’, raining blow after blow
    Paraded like a show, female soldiers took photos
    One after another, penetrated and they smothered
    And others, also suffered, as they screamed for their mothers
    You or the UN, couldn’t hear when she cried
    With her hands tied, wishing that she took the cyanide
    after months inside, uncle finally paid a bribe
    Got her outside the camp, and she survived
    Seelan and her daughter disappeared without a trace
    This is how the Sinhala people are wiping out our race
    In an occupied state, where the army rule the space
    And liberation fighters no longer have a place
    The villagers noticed the change in her figure
    And stigmatized her ’cause her belly’s getting bigger
    Abuse they still give her, as the army men snigger
    Couldn’t take no more, put the finger on the trigger
    A gun to the head, though her mind already dead
    Is this how our freedom fighters story going to end?

    She was born in the idyllic village of thiriyai
    In the year it was burned down in 1985
    Yo her ammaa and appaa were cruelly burned alive
    Her sister was raped right in front of her eyes
    She was raised in the Vanni where she finally learnt to fight
    To liberate our land, and to liberate our rights
    Never thinking twice, living life of sacrifice
    When the strife was rife, she cut like knife in paradise
    With a hand on the gun, making army man run
    stunned, and left numb, with every battle that they won
    In the ceasefire, she fell in love with a guy
    A former cadre who lost his eyes in a fight
    His name was Seelan, barely breathing. nursed him back & gave him meaning
    He joined the movement as a student and was always prudent
    lost his vision, giving mission without inhibition, position
    fighting division, so listen he gave tuition
    To children that couldn’t afford tuition or a pot to piss in
    He kept on giving, gave a gift, made his life worth living
    She gave birth to baby girl that’s pretty
    In the city of Kili, he named the child kayalvizhi

    Verse 2
    They never had much, but in love they had enough
    Living in a mudhut, in a state that’s not corrupt
    Plus, they lived in freedom in Eelam from army demons
    Ceasefire got them dreaming that peace would finally see them
    Walking hand in hand, over free soil and sand
    Liberated land, land liberated by their hand
    And, they built a bank, police force and courts of law
    Independent state is what they’re dying fighting for
    Time flowing like a river, watch her daughter growing bigger
    With Vigour, normal life is all they ever want to give her
    A Playful child, always happy, playing in the wild
    While her appaa made her smile, he was never in denial
    Life wasn’t to be, though blind Seelan could see
    That she, would one day have to pick the gun and just leave
    Out of the blue, the tigers then split in two
    and the karuna group, caused the war to break through
    2009, called back to the frontline
    The black clouds had come, there’s was no more sunshine
    Giving her kin one last kiss goodbye
    Not knowing, whether she would ever, live or die

    Verse 3
    Her body froze, laying on the floor, with no clothes
    All she see is hundred toes, surrounded by ten foes
    As they yelled ‘you Thamil ho’, raining blow after blow
    Paraded like a show, female soldiers took photos
    One after another, penetrated and they smothered
    And others, also suffered, as they screamed for their mothers
    You or the UN, couldn’t hear when she cried
    With her hands tied, wishing that she took the cyanide
    after months inside, uncle finally paid a bribe
    Got her outside the camp, and she survived
    Seelan and her daughter disappeared without a trace
    This is how the Sinhala people are wiping out our race
    In an occupied state, where the army rule the space
    And liberation fighters no longer have a place
    The villagers noticed the change in her figure
    And stigmatized her ’cause her belly’s getting bigger
    Abuse they still give her, as the army men snigger
    Couldn’t take no more, put the finger on the trigger
    A gun to the head, though her mind already dead
    Is this how our freedom fighters story going to end?

  • 3
    4

    Crazy!

    LTTE did SL a huge favor by recruiting Tamil children as soldiers to die in war.

    If anyone is against it, he is not a true Srilankan.

    • 0
      6

      Sri Lanka did huge favor by uplifting it as worst sex defending and using sex as war weapon army country in the world. If you let them alone, Mahavamsa propagandist would even fool the OHCHR. But fortunately these cowards did not dare to go there.

  • 3
    1

    “Today, although Sri Lanka was de-listed by the UN from the ‘List of Shame’, although all ex-child combatants were rehabilitated, reintegrated and provided with formal education, we must remember the stories of this ‘lost generation’; for they did not deserve any of the sufferings they went through”.
    Can not agree with you more Kamaya. The NGO’s under strict supervision of the military, could do a lot in achieving this. I said military supervision because re-emergence of LTTE offshoots is a prospect Sri Lanka does not need or deserve.

  • 2
    1

    Thank you, Kamaya. A powerful piece of writing.

  • 0
    5

    Madame are new to CT? Don’t you remember the video’s in the CT of how the Sinhala army tortured the Sinhala girls recruits? Madame could you write something about the Tamils girls forcefully recruited into army and raped day and night. They become haunted and admitted at kilinochchi Hospital. Even when Douglas wanted to go there, he too as chased away by the army. The doctor who went get release them was tortured in the prison for years? Do you know this is done by your Sinhala Buddhist democratic army. Could write few words about falsely arrested Jeyakumari’s 13 years old child with the pain of attainment. Do remember the Trinco woman, the army informants wife was arrested as revived LTTE, because the the UNHRC resolution of 2014? Do you remember she aborted the child in the prison. Do remember how the 40% the girls that mentioned was fished off by the Sinhala army? Do you know that there is war crime investigation is going for that? Do you remember the 13 years old child Balachandran was given cookies gun shot simultaneously? How about Isaipriya’s cases.

    Listen. Your Radhika Cuamarsamy, now the Friday Falsedom’s chief commentator, thinking that Royal government going to recommend her for UN-SG post and she worked with Karuna on the LTTE’s child soldier case. That is in black and white on international records. An UN’s special investigator came and blamed Karuna on that. If you have real evidences further than that, CT is not the propaganda place. You have to go to OHCHR inquiry and present it there. Don’t come here with “Kaddukkathai”. Face a real case if you have anything truth in your words. Before you go there, please remember, Mohan Perls is not coming there to give a Sinhala Buddhist verdict.

  • 1
    4

    One of the LTTE leading masterminds of recruiting Child Soldiers is Vinyagamoorthy Muralidaran known as Karuna Amman, who is happily enjoying the impunity and the lurks and perks given to him by none other than the President of Sri Lanka. In fact it is his brother Gotabaya Rajapksa who arranged a false diplomatic passport for this LTTE butcher to travel to UK. Why the Sri Lankans are so myopic to the extent of getting duped by the same people who continue to harbour and pamper not only Karuna but also KP – LTTE’s main arms purchaser. Another brother of the President Basil Rajapaksa in fact gave as it was reported and attested something like $180 million to LTTE to prevent Tamil people from voting so that Mahinda Rajapaksa could ensure his win at the then elections. Gotabaya and Basil hold US passports.. and according to US law helping Terrorists a severly punishable offence under US law.

    • 1
      0

      Says Mithra:

      “One of the LTTE leading masterminds of recruiting Child Soldiers is Vinyagamoorthy Muralidaran known as Karuna Amman,…”
      Possibly true. Karuna has apologised for his actions and was granted immunity. There are other LTTE terrorists and those who supported terrorism still at large. UNHRC being a pro LTTE outfit under Nazi Pullai has shown little or no interest in rounding up these murderers who live comfortable lives in the West. Balasingham’s wife who is the inventor of female suicide killers lives freely in the UK. If the UNHRC is unbiased they should rope in that woman first. In UNHRC terminology there is sufficient ‘credible evidence’ to do just that and hundreds of others in the West, mostly engaged in crime, who need to be put on trial .Now that terrorism is again under the spotlight with Ilamic State (IS) barbarism, it is in the interest of the West to rope in the Tamil Terror agents, who could well influence and support and direct barbarism towards the West. For a fee they will. Those who backed the UNHRC against Sri Lanka have to do a little homework now!

      • 0
        1

        “If the UNHRC is unbiased they should rope in that woman first. In UNHRC terminology there is sufficient ‘credible evidence’ to do just that and hundreds of others in the West, mostly engaged in crime who need to be put on trial.”

        Well said! Start next time when the The Common Wealth King go to Britain! Get the UNHRC there and start an inquiry.

  • 0
    0

    Thank You Kamaya for keeping in focus a particularly disgraceful aspect of those turbulent years. Many questions….and What IF are still the subject of the various post mortems. What if the Tamil community did not devolve leadership on the brave but ultimately foolhardy Prabhakaran who couldn’t in the end understand the numbers were stacked against him militarily? What if the (arguably) smarter and capable members of the community, particularly the men, did not decamp for fresh pastures far away from the misery? And lead to the inevitable recruitment of women and children to the cause? We could go on forever.

    In the nature of things, war is a miserable business and attracts a higher than average level of deviants. The men who prosecuted the war on both sides did some of the most despicable acts besides killing. Many of those men now living are being driven mad by their actions – divine justice? – and others, cold-blooded, live the lives of ‘normalcy’ in our community. The evil that is our inherited national disgrace will take generations to purge out our system.

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