Vasanthi became a child soldier in Sri Lanka at the age of 10. She was one of hundreds of thousands of children who participate in armies and armed groups in more than 30 countries around the world. The problem is most critical in Africa, where up to 100,000 children are estimated to be involved in armed conflict. Child soldiers also exist in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Burma, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, even though international law sets 18 as the minimum age for all participation in hostilities.
Sabitha-Jayanthi became a child soldier in Sri Lanka at the age of 13. In Sri Lanka, children as young as nine have been abducted and used in combat by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The LTTE used children as soldiers throughout its conflict with the Sri Lankan government, between 1983 and 2002. Children—most aged 14 or 15 and over 40 percent girls—were used for massed frontal attacks in major battles, and some between the ages of 12 and 14 were used to massacre women and children in rural villages. Others were used as human mine detectors, assassins and suicide bombers. A ceasefire was implemented in February 2002, but this didn’t halt the LTTE’s use of child soldiers. In fact, children were more likely to be forcibly recruited: people saw no reason to give their children to the LTTE if they did not perceive themselves at risk by the government, and so the LTTE resorted to abduction. In 1994, one in 19 child recruits was abducted. By 2004, only one in 19 was a volunteer.