The mother of an abducted child in Sri Lanka holds a photo of her missing son. ©Fred Abrahams/Human Rights Watch 2006

For years the Tamil Tigers have used child soldiers in their ranks. Now, after a shaky four-year ceasefire ended in April, the Sri Lankan government is using similar means.

The perpetrators are the Karuna group, an armed faction that split from the Tamil Tigers in 2004. Led by V. Muralitharan, a former Tamil Tiger commander known as Karuna, the group has abducted hundreds of boys and young men in eastern Sri Lanka this year. The Sri Lankan security forces are tolerating the abductions and, at times, directly taking part.

In the most extreme example, members of the Sri Lankan army surrounded a village in the Batticaloa district, rounding up and photographing the boys and young men. Karuna forces came later that day and took eight of the boys and young men away. In other cases, parents saw their abducted children in offices of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), the political party recently founded by the Karuna group. In at least two towns of the east, police guard the TMVP offices. Some parents saw their children in Karuna camps, which are located in government-controlled areas past numerous checkpoints of the military and police.

The Sri Lankan government has promised an investigation, but impunity for human rights abuses in Sri Lanka runs deep. Mothers of abducted children, like the woman photographed here, are desperate to see their children again, but they place little hope in government efforts to achieve that aim.

UNICEF first publicly reported on abductions by the Karuna group in June 2006. The agency appealed to the government “to investigate all abductions and ensure that children in affected areas are given the full protection of the law,” a UNICEF statement said. In July, a group of more than 40 mothers of abducted children filed a detailed petition to the chief justice of the Sri Lankan Supreme Court, seeking an inquiry. Copies went to the president and the minister for disaster management and human rights.

FPIF contributor Fred Abrahams is senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. HRW will be publishing a report on child abductions in Sri Lanka in December.

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