Sri Lankans express a preference that their first child be a girl, whom they believe will help care for and be a disciplining influence on younger siblings. While overall there is a preference for sons, this is not as strong as in other South Asian countries. The mortality rate used to be bit higher for girls than boys. This may have been because boys received better care than girls. The mortality rate for girls is much lower than it was in the past and is actually lower than that of boys. [Source: Bryan Pfaffenberger”Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

Boys and girls in Sri Lanka mix freely until puberty and receive a great deal of affection from both women and men. As they enter their teens, children begin to adopt the adult roles that will keep them in separate worlds: girls help with household chores and boys work outside the home. Among the middle- and upper-income groups, however, education of children may last into their early twenties, and women may mix with males or even take on jobs that were in the past reserved for men. There has been a tendency to view the educational qualifications of women as a means for obtaining favorable marriage alliances, and many middle-class women withdraw from the workplace after marriage. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988]

Girls are expected to work harder around the house than boys. As young as age 5 or 6 they are given a significant amount of household chores that can keep them busy for many hours. In the past they were often taken out of school early but that is not the case many more. Now, there are more girls in secondary school in Sri Lanka than boys. |~|

see Education, School

Children Statistics

Under-five mortality rate: 7.1 per 1,000 births [Source: UNICEF DATA]

Child protection
Children under age 5 whose births are registered: 97 percent
Women aged 20-24 years who were first married or in union by age 18: 10 percent

Adjusted net attendance rate, one year before official primary entry age. 42 percent
Adjusted net attendance rate, primary education: 96 percent
Adjusted net attendance rate, lower secondary education: 92 percent
Adjusted net attendance rate, upper secondary education: 73 percent
Completion rate, primary education: 99 percent
Youth literacy rate (15 — 24 years); 99 percent

Child Health

Proportion of under-five children with suspected pneumonia taken to health provider: 52 percent
Proportion of children under five years old with diarrhoea receiving oral rehydration salts: 54 percent
Proportion of children under five sleeping under insecticide-treated nets: 4 percent
Proportion of households owning at least one insecticide-treated net (ITN): 6 percent
Percentage of infants who received three doses of DTP vaccine: 99 percent
Percentage of children who received the second dose of measles containing vaccine: 99 percent

Child Survival
Under-five mortality rate (U5MR), deaths per 1,000 live births: 7
Number of under-five deaths: 2,378
Infant mortality rate (IMR), deaths per 1,000 live births: 6
Neonatal mortality rate (NMR), deaths per 1,000 live births: 4
Under-five mortality rate (U5MR), deaths per 1,000 live births (male): 8
Under-five mortality rate (U5MR), deaths per 1,000 live births (female): 6

Maternal and Newborn Health
Proportion of women aged 15-49 who received postnatal care within 2 days after giving birth: 99 percent
Antenatal care coverage for at least four visits: 93 percent
Proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel: 100 percent
Caesarean section: 32 percent
Proportion of women 20-24 years old who gave birth before age 18: 3 percent
Maternal mortality ratio (number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) (Female) (Per 100000 live births): 36

Early initiation of breastfeeding (within one hour of birth): 90 percent
Exclusive breastfeeding: percent (<6 months): 82 percent
Continued breastfeeding rate (20-23 months) at one year: 87 percent
Prevalence of moderate and severe stunting: 16 percent
Proportion of households consuming iodized salt: 92 percent

Child Rearing in Sri Lanka

Children usually sleep with their mother except in Westernized households. According to Western anthropologists curiosity, initiative and hobbies are not encouraged. This is partly because children do not want to be encouraged to pursue activities outside their caste. Especially among higher castes and the wealthy deference to one parent’s and authorities is strong. Children are expected to do what their parents tell them. Failure to do so can result in excommunication from the family and denial of inherence rights. [Source: Bryan Pfaffenberger”Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

Bambi L. Chapin and Kalinga Tudor Silva wrote in “Countries and Their Cultures”: “In Sri Lanka, young children are highly adored, fondled, and indulged by everyone, both male and female. Infants are traditionally kept with their mothers or female relatives. Babies are carried until they can walk and sleep with mothers until they are school-aged, at which time they are encouraged to move into a bed with their siblings. Nearly all mothers breast-feed their children, commonly through the first year. [Source: Bambi L. Chapin and Kalinga Tudor Silva, “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

“As children grow, they are expected to develop a sense of lajjawa, a feeling that combines shyness, shame, modesty, and fear. It is cultivated early in childhood and used to teach self-control, beginning with bowel-control training, which starts at one year, then with weaning and nudity, and later with school performance.

“Although mothers perform most of the child rearing, they are more responsible for their daughters' discipline and tend to be more indulgent with their sons. Fathers tend to indulge all of their children under five, at which point they take on a stricter disciplinary role, particularly with their sons whom they are responsible for controlling. Corporal punishment is quite common, especially from older males to boys.

Children in Rural Areas of Sri Lanka

Provincial Schools in rural areas comprises of the vast majority of schools in Sri Lanka. With the establishment of the provincial council system in the 1980s the central government handed control of most schools to local governments. Funded and controlled by the local governments many suffer from poor facilities and a shortage of teachers.

Dr. Tissa K. Dissanayake wrote in the Sunday Leader, a Sri Lankan newspaper: “ I found that the rural children are in the fields with their parents at young ages, usually before they begin attending school at age five. The children help parents with plugging out the harvest, weeding the grass, fertilizing, and watering the farm using buckets added to which sometimes is metal crushing, fishing in nearby streams all of which help transfer skills to children at young ages. Though parents like to see their children pursue education to the highest level, they also believe that agriculture should be sustained, such being their source of sole income. Parents are accustomed to this pattern, as it has continued through generations. [Source: Dr. Tissa K. Dissanayake, Sunday Leader, August 28, 2016]

“A teacher who serves in a rural community school in the North Central Province explained that all most all the students in her class do not attend school during the tobacco harvesting season. People select tobacco harvesting over rice cultivation due to the high income earning potential despite the hazardous health conditions that the former brings about. A considerable population working in tobacco fields experience heart diseases such as breathing difficulty, fluctuations in blood pressure or heart rate, and increased perspiration and salivation. Despite such, parents encourage children to work in tobacco fields over attending school.

“A youngster who followed this pattern (who worked in the fields with her parents after school like any other kid in the neighborhood) is now a university graduate teacher. She was the only student who passed the G.C.E Ordinary Level Examination after seven years in that rural school and was able to balance her farm work and education at immense sacrifice, to accomplish her goal of working for the government sector. However, most school aged children do not have success stories. Financial difficulties in households force children to be employed in fields, full time. This is a significant factor resulting in high percentages of under educated youth from rural communities.

“A household thus makes a sacrifice to send a child to school continuously at the loss of a supplementary income to the family. It is a hard choice between investing in education for the future, versus surviving each day from hunger. The rulers have not implemented policies to support the school aged children in ultra-poor rural communities. Short term decision making, of keeping children at home for supplemental income through unskilled labor (later these employments will be the main stream income) do not contribute towards up lifting the standards of life which also results in adverse macro-economic development of the nation.”

Kids and the Sinhala and Tamil New Year

Describing Sinhalese and Tamil New Year, the biggest holiday of the year in Sri Lanka, falling in April, Rohana R. Wasala wrote in The Island: “I have vivid memories of how the Aluth Ayurudu festivities were held in the remote villages of the Nuwara Eliya District in the late fifties and early sixties when we were young children. The Aurudda was an event we looked forward to for a whole year through interminable months of school and ups and downs of childish fortunes (such as exam success or failure, friendship or fighting among playmates). At this time of the year we were invariably aware of a general awakening in nature. It was the time when the paddy was harvested and the fields were left fallow for a few weeks, allowing us children to romp about and play ‘rounders’; it was the time when exotic birds with bright plumage like the golden oriole sang from flower-laden trees; it was the time when the humble dwellings of the peasants were cleaned and whitewashed, adding to the sunny brilliance of the surroundings. Unlike children today we had more time to play, because tuition and cramming was almost unknown then and nature had not been replaced by TV and computer in engaging the aesthetic sense of the young. The impression we got from observing the multitude of beauteous forms in the environment was that even nature joined us in our joy — a very positive sort of pathetic fallacy. [Source: Rohana R. Wasala, The Island, Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

Sybil Wettasinghe wrote: “The elders in our village always had children in mind, in whatever they did. That was the reason why they started off by putting up the swing first. It was made of home made rope, strong and tightly twisted to ensure the safety of the young ones. From the time the swing went up on the mango tree, it was the start of the New Year celebrations for the kids who more or less lived on the swing. [Source: Sybil Wettasinghe, Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

Everyone went to the temple during Nonagathe time. We too joined our neighbours, all dressed in white, carrying flowers, joss sticks, coconut oil and wicks for the oil lamps. On returning home, mother spread mats under the mango tree, and we spent out time in joyous mood. We played indoor games like Panchi. Panchi is played with five small sea shells, a coconut shell and a chart. Players are divided into two groups. My father and I were always on one side, whilst mother and Caroline were on the opposite side. Half way through the game, father would whisper to me, ``we should let them win. If mother loses, she will be angry and getting angry on New Year's day is not very good.''

“Father gave each one of us a silver rupee coin blessing us with good health, happiness and prosperity. Many people came visiting my mother on New Years day, mainly to receive a silver coin from her as the first transaction of the New Year. They believed she was a generous lady. The people came with platefuls of kiribath and sweetmeats and all this fare was heaped on the string bed in our dining room which had a mat on it.

“The old and the young played together on New Year's day. Some played the cadju nut game on the gravel road. Some sat in groups on the verandahs playing panchi The menfolk indulged in playing draughts and card games. We kids had a rollicking time on the swing. The swing had a long plank, on which sat all the kids holding each other firmly. On either side stood two young women who swung forward by turns. As the swing moved to and fro, the women worked up the speed by pushing themselves forward in mid-air. Soon the swing went flying high to and fro, whilst the women sang long drawn swing songs.

Games and Pastimes Enjoyed During Sinhala and Tamil New Year

Aryadasa Ratnasinghe wrote in the Sunday Obervor: Among the national sports activities organised during the festive season are 'on chili-pedima', 'kalagedi-sellama', 'olinda-keliya', 'mewara-keliya', 'udekki-sellama', 'leekeli-sellama', 'korapol-gehima', 'meemesi-keliya', 'kalligesima', 'katti-penima', 'lanupora-allima', 'mallawa-pora', 'ali-pora', 'gon-pora', 'rilapeti-pedima', 'dadu-gesima', and many other games of interest to keep the festival a happy event.Old women love to play the 'rabana' (a single-sided drum about 3 feet in diameter), and 4 or 5 women can play at one time, and it is an indispensable item in every home to be made use of whenever necessary. [Source: Aryadasa Ratnasinghe CDN, Sunday Observor,Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

Godwin Witane wrote in The Island: “During Sinhala Avurudu time the whole village transformed itself into a grand festival. Both young and old were kindled with the enthusiasm of an enjoyable and happy atmosphere. [Source: Godwin Witane, The Island, Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

“The menfolk prepared swings. on the branches of overhanging trees for the enjoyment of young boys and girls. They sang swing songs while the swings swayed to and fro reaching great heights.
Sura love wimane Suran padinne
Nara love guvaney naran padinne
Sura Saema Athhtho vaaran denne
Budunne saranin apida padinne.
Purawara meda bendi onchilla
Durayana satiyata puduma novella
Waeragena pirimin thawa pedapalla
Surapura Deviyan rakinu siyalla

“Sinhalese womenfolk have excelled and figured in the alluring pastime known as onchilli pedima. The songs sung by these females have been handed down to us from our forefathers as also, carters’ songs, boatmens’ songs and other Siv Pada of a bygone era. The ancient ordinary villager was capable of expressing his innermost feelings and faith in the sweetest of poetry to be found in the Sinhalese language. Our Sinhalese merry makers revelled in singing these melodious songs which made the New Year celebrations seemingly lively. They were a living testimony to the peace and tranquility that existed among the village folk. But the present day damsels, boys and girls both from the villages and towns have more alluring pastimes than enjoying in a swing singing Siv Pada. Their rendervous are the numberless sangeetha sandharahanas or musical events where they gather in unpredictable numbers wherever they are held on day to day arrangements unrelated to any’ significant occasion appearing on the calendar.

“The kathru onchilla or great wheel was introduced by the foreigners when they held sway within this country. This wheel like structure was put into motion going round and round by a person who actually walked in step inside the wheel to turn it round anti clockwise. Usually, eight seats were hung from eight cardinal points on the wheel and when persons, usually young boys and girls sat on the hanging seats they maintained an upright position throughout the operation of the giant wheel. This was a rare attraction in the village and the construction of which required the expertise and skill of several people.

“The playing of raban during the festive season is a common feature both during day time and especially in the night accompanied by the singing of resounding Siv Pada and folk songs. Games such as panchi or kawadi were played for stakes by both males and females. The scoring by means of runners was done on a drawn up chart on a plank or on card board.

Playing of cards was a pastime exclusively of the menfolk. They either played a game of buruwa or asking and hitting and ajutha akin to Bridge. They choose to play these games either in the open air seated on mats or inside the house. This gambling was supposed to be exempted from the attention of the police as a concession during the festive days. Playing of cards was an important eventduring the New Year celebrations. While having a game of cards, I remember seeing my grand father entering his room for a hurried peg. He usually resumed his seat viping his mouth with his palm.

Life Cycle Events and Rites of Passage for Children in Sri Lanka

Big celebrations are held during life cycle events such as birth, first solid food, the introduction of the letters of the alphabet. adolescence and marriage. Births are big occasions celebrated with great fanfare among family members. All relatives come to see a newborn baby and give the child and the mother gifts. Infant rites usually begin at three months, when children are taken to devalayas (shrines) to receive the blessing and protection of the gods. The child’s first sold food, usually a mix of rice and milk called “kiri bath”, is marked with great fanfare. Birthdays were traditionally not big deals but now are as a result of Western influences.

Girls receive a coming of age party after they have their first period. They receive gifts, including jewelry. The event traditionally marked the arrival of marriageable age. In the old days the girls was expected to remain in a special room in her house the duration of her first period but that custom is no longer practiced today. The coming of age ritual of girls marks her entrance to adulthood. There is no such similar rite of passage for boys.

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Sinhalese rites of passage involve a mix of Buddhist customs and folk traditions. In rural areas, difficulties in pregnancy are often ascribed to evil spirits or black magic, and a magician (kattadiya) may be called in to deal with the situation with charms and mantras. The newborn is given a few drops of human milk with a touch of gold to endow it with strength and beauty, and offerings are made both at the temple and to Buddhist monks. There are few formal ceremonies, although the occasion when a child is taught to read letters (at about three years) is an important one. [Source: D. O. Lodric, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]

Sinhalese Birth Rituals in the Old days

Asiff Hussein, a Sri Lankan journalist and write, wrote: Sinhalese society has its share of ritual connected with birth and childhood and much of this could be traced back to the traditions established by the early Indo-Aryans when they established their sway over the Indo-gangetic plains more than 3000 years ago. Some however are later accretions that would have arisen due to folk beliefs or contact with other cultures. [Source: Asiff Hussein, Sunday Observer, Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

On customs related to the birth of a child and a new mother, when a woman was regarded as polluted after she gave birth, T. B. Parnatella wrote in 1908: “When a woman is confined, the females in the neighbourhood should visit the child and its mother. If the new-born baby is not handed over to the female visitors to take in their arms, it is a breach of etiquette. They would certainly be offended were the custom omitted. When the relatives living at a distance come to know of the birth of the child, they come one by one with a presentation box or basket, full of sweetmeats, plantains, &c. To them also the baby should be handed. On such occasions too it is, usual to give presents to the child by those who love it. [Source: T. B. Parnatella, “Sumptuary Laws and Social Etiquette of the Kandyans,” The Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, 1908; Lanka Chronicle,Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

“The expenses at childbirth, puberty ceremony, wedding celebrations, and funeral rites, are limited. At every one of these occasions the dhoby (washerman) is benefited most; but even he is prohibited from asking anything more than the fixed amount. A request for more than the amount is never granted. Though it is not usual to give wedding presents to relatives, every one invited, whether male or female, is bound to give presents to a girl at the ceremony of her coming of age. If one cannot afford to give a present, it is customary not to attend the festival.

Pregnancy Customs in Sri Lanka in the Old Days

Asiff Hussein wrote in the Sunday Observor: “The olden day Sinhalese women as of now craved for certain foods when expecting and this was known as dola-duka. Women deprived of satisfying their dola-duka cravings were said to become weak and emaciated, so that it was very important that such desires were satisfied, a belief reflected in medieval Sinhalese literature such as the 14th century Saddharma Lankaraya of Dharmakirthi. [Source: Asiff Hussein, Sunday Observer, Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

The belief is a fairly old one, for the Mahavamsa, an ancient chronicle of Sinhalese royalty composed sometime during the 5th century. makes reference to the rather unusual cravings of Queen Viharamahadevi when she was expecting Prince Dutugemunu, an event which goes back to the 2nd century B.C. The chronicle has it that the queen longed to lie on her right side in a beautiful bed with a honey-comb of the size of a bull at the head of the bed and to partake of honey after giving of it to twelve thousand bhikkhus. She also craved to drink while trampling his very head, the water in which was washed the sword that beheaded the chief warrior among Elara's soldiers.

A consideration of the term dola may perhaps shed some light on this interesting belief. The term appears to have derived from the Prakritic dohada which in turn arose from the Sanskritic dvaihrda (lit. two hearts). It seems that the expectant mother was considered to have two hearts, hers and that of her unborn child. This contention has lent support by the famous Indian medical writer Sushruta who alludes to a pregnant woman as one with two hearts (dvihrdayam). We may therefore suppose that the idea of pregnancy craving originally arose in India and that the term originally meant '(the desire of) two hearts'. The underlying belief here seems to have been that the unborn child's desires were manifested in the longings for certain foods on the part of the mother and that these had to be satisfied to ensure the well-being of the child.

Birth Customs in Sri Lanka in the Old Days

Asiff Hussein wrote in the Sunday Observor: “In the not too distant past, it was generally the vinnambu or midwife who delivered the child at the woman's parental home. Indeed, confinement in the parental home appears to have been widespread even among the aristocratic families well up to the early part of the 20th century. This also seems to have been the practice in ancient and medieval times as well as may be gathered from sources such as the Saddharma Ratnavaliya composed by Dharmasena in the 13th century. [Source: Asiff Hussein, Sunday Observer, Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

In the olden days, childbirth very often took place in a dark room in a house, a practice which seems to have died out today, except perhaps in some remote areas where health services are not easily accessible. The Valauwas or manors of the old Sinhalese aristocracy were in fact provided with special lying-in rooms known as timirige or timbirige (lit.dark house). These rooms were provided with two ropes known as vili-rena (lit.labor cords) which were tethered to the roof and dangled above the bed thereby providing support to the parturient woman straining in labor.

There also existed a number of unusual customs of the olden day Sinhalese connected with childbirth which no longer appear to be practised. One such custom is recorded by Hugh Neville in his contribution on 'Social rites of the Sinhalese' to the Taprobanian of April 1887. Neville notes that before the birth of a first born child, castes such as the Hakura, Paduwa and Berawaya tie a band of gaedumba bark over the breasts for seven months or so before birth, to protect the nipples from evil influences and to increase the supply of milk.

This, he notes, is called tana potta or 'pap bark'. He also observes that Sinhalese women of whatever caste, if they wear no covering over the upper part of the body, wear a band of calico four inches wide across the breasts during the period immediately before their child's birth, and until it is weaned. This, he says, is done to avert the evil eye.

First Food Rituals for an Infant in Sri Lanka in the Old Days

Asiff Hussein wrote in the Sunday Observor: “ The fist birth rite performed on the newborn today is the ceremony of rankiri kata gema, the application of breast milk touched with gold on the lips of the infant. [Source: Asiff Hussein, Sunday Observer Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

That the practice is an old one, there cannot be any doubt. It is similar in many respects to an ancient Hindu rite prescribed in the Ashvalayana Sutra where it is stated that the father of the newborn should make it suck the ghee and honey rubbed in gold by placing it in the mouth of the child, before it is taken away. The bat kevima or first feed of rice is another important childhood ritual among the Sinhalese and has to take place during the 6th, 8th, 10th or 12th month in the case of boys and in the 5th, 7th, 9th or 11th month in the case of girls. The task is usually performed by the father or paternal grandfather and although tradition prescribes that the first meal be a variety of al hal, nowadays hinati hal is often used along with kitul jaggery.

The custom could be considered the equivalent of the Hindu annaprashana which finds mention in ancient Hindu ritual texts. The Ashvalayana Sutra for instance prescribes that the child be fed cereal in its 6th month and that he who desires his child be intelligent should feed it cooked rice mixed with ghee and honey. That the ritual figured among the ancient Sinhalese is borne out by the Chulavamsa which has it that King Manabharana had the ceremony of the first feed of rice (annapasana) performed for his son Parakramabahu according to custom. The Dhampiya Atuva Getapadaya of the 10th century also refers to the custom of feeding the child rice gruel (hambu povana).

Naming Ceremony for an Infant in Sri Lanka in the Old Days

Asiff Hussein wrote in the Sunday Observor: “But by far the most important childhood ritual in traditional Sinhalese society is the nam tebima or naming ceremony which often takes place a few months after birth when it is fed with rice for the first time. The name so given is the batkavapu nama 'the name given at the first feeding of the rice'. [Source: Asiff Hussein, Sunday Observer, Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

The Saddharma Ratnavaliya refers to an occasion when the naming ceremony was performed on the day of the birth of the child, while the Pujavaliya refers to an instance when the naming took place five days after the birth. It however appears that in Kandyan times, the naming was done on the seventh month after the birth of the child.

The rite could be considered the equivalent of the Hindu Namakarana prescribed in the Grhya Sutras. These texts recommend that a name be selected for the child on the very first day of the birth, the eleventh day or the 101st day after the birth. We also gather from the Jataka tales which reflect Hindu social life of Pre-Buddhist India that there was a day fixed for naming the child (namagahanadivasa) and that names were usually formed after those of the ancestors or from the father's or mother's side (na mahyam mattikam naman, na pi pettikasambhavam).

The dorata vedima where the child is taken out of the house into the open and exposed to the rising morning sun is another important ritual in traditional Sinhalese society. The practice is evidently the same as the hiru vadana magula or 'Ceremony of the increasing Sun' mentioned in the Saddharma Ratnavaliya which consisted of exposing the child to the sun a few days after birth. The practice bears a striking resemblance to the ancient Hindu custom known as Aditya Darshana or the ceremony of taking the child out to see the sun which took place in the fourth month after birth.

Yet another important rite, the hisakes kepima or tonsure, is performed at an auspicious time during the first, third, or fifth year of the child. The Dhampiya Atuva Getapadaya refers to the ritual as Silu Situvana. It could be considered the equivalent of the Hindu Chudakarma prescribed in the ancient Indian ritual texts. The kan vidima or the piercing of the ears of girls, another important rite, is usually performed early in infancy. Tradition prescribes that the piercing be done on the 10th, 16th or 19th day after birth, failing which it may be performed on a suitable day between the 6th and 8th month after birth.

Among the medieval Sinhalese works which mention the custom are the Dhampiya Atuva Getapadaya which calls it kan vijuna. There is also evidence to show that in the olden days, it was also performed on male children, at least those of royal stock. The Chulavamsa for instance has it that King Manabharana had the ceremony of the piercing of the ears (kannavedha) performed for his son Parakramabahu. The custom could be considered the equivalent of the Hindu Karnavedha which the Grhya Sutras recommend be performed on the third or fifth year of the child.

Child Soldiers with the Tamil Tigers

The Tamil Tigers, which fought with the Sri Lankan government from 1983 to 2009, were widely condemned for using child soldiers. Children as young as ten fought for the Tigers. After they had been recruited the new soldiers were taken to training camps and given new names and told the life they left behind had no relevance any more. Some never saw their parents again. If a child escaped. Sometimes a family member was held hostage until he or she returned.

During one attack, government soldiers realized that 14 of the 18 people they killed were teenage girls. One officer told Time, "The LTTE attacked one of our outposts, and soldiers could hear a young girl in the darkness, wounded. She was in great pain and crying for her mother. Finally, the soldiers couldn't stand it any longer, so they crawled out and fetched her. The girl had lost a leg. She was 12, maybe." The young girl apparently didn't bite into her cyanide capsule. "One moment, they are Tigers, fighting bravely. The next moment they are children again, calling for their mothers in the night," the officer said.

By one count 21,500 girls are involved in armed conflict in Sri Lanka. Children are easier to mold into ruthless fighters. Bill Keller wrote in the New York Times, "Children, it turns out make good killers. They learn fast, they work cheap, and their sense of right and wrong has outgrown their yearning to be accepted by whatever liberation group or guerilla army has become their surrogate family."

According to Human Rights Watch: “The LTTE has long abducted children into its forces, and used them as infantry soldiers, intelligence officers, medics, and even suicide bombers. Human Rights Watch documented the practice in a 2004 report, “Living in Fear: Child Soldiers and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.”“


Recruiting Tiger Child Soldiers

The Tamil Tigers were also condemned for the way they recruiting child soldiers. In some cases they held street dramas in poor Tamil neighborhoods or showed movies at their headquarters to attract young people. Some of the children joined willingly, in part attracted by free meals and protection from harassment by the Tamil Tigers. Others were orphans brought up in Tamil Tiger orphanages.

In other cases, children were snatched in vehicles as they walked along roads to school, grabbed from their homes, abducted after showing up at Tamil Tiger events and forced to join after their parents were threatened. The parents were told their children or even nephews and nieces would be killed if they didn’t hand them over. In some cases parents gave up the children of other families to save their own children. Sometimes as many 60 children were taken from a single village.

One 16-year-old girl told the New York Times that she and two friends were abducted as they walked through their village to an English class and was told she would be killed if she tried to escape. She did escaped by hiking five days to a military post but said she could not return to her village. An 18-year-old boy told the New York Times he showed up at Tigers office after he was told he could watch films there. Instead of being shown films, he and some others were thrown into a van and taken to camp two hours away. His mother was able to track him down and secure his release.

A large number of children were recruited in the Batticaloa area. There was a policy among Tamils there that very every family that had three or more children had to supply one child to the Tamil Tiger movement.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (, Government of Sri Lanka (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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