I suppose this personal history of mine is one reason why seeing this billboard as an anti-trafficking message in one of the rural villages in the east of Sri Lanka struck such a chord for me. It serves as a reminder to what a child is and what they should be. In this case it makes reference to a child that should be carrying a cricket bat instead of the grenade launcher.
I asked a colleague of mine about this poster and she explained the above to me. Until now I've been cautious not to push people into telling me their war stories, but am always listening attentively when they share. This was one of those times. My colleague told me her views of the Tamil Tigers-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE).
Yes, they stood up for Tamil (minority ethnicity in Sri Lanka) rights, but they were brutal and they were vicious. They required every person working or living in the LTTE controlled villages of the north and east with a family with more than one child to give one up for the movement. If you failed to do so, they would extort you for all you were worth. In my colleague's case, her father was working in on eof these villages. she had one sister and one brother who had passed away years earlier. The LTTE came after her father demanding either her sister or her join. He staunchly refused and they put him in prison as a result. Her mother went to them, begging for them to release them and they said they would if she either give up a child or pay 150,000 rupees...this from a family that makes 6,000 rupees at the most a month. When she asked how she could pay this, they said easily-give us your house and land and go with your children to live in one of the many IDP camps being run by ICRC and the UN. Eventually the mother got the money from loans and the father was released. He soon after took a job in Saudi Arabia in order to avoid further extortion and protect the family.
Sadly, many of these children 'disappeared' following the violent end to the war in 2009. It has been explained to me that what took place here in the final years of the war was a genocide. To date, there are approximately 300,000 people who vanished from the northern Vanni region without a trace. Among them are more than likely the child soldiers-robbed of their childhood and their lives taken before they even had a chance to live them.
Here is a recent article published by IRIN regarding the missing children: