[Programme Officer, National Protection and Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons Project, HRCSL]
In this article I examine the impact of conflict on youth in Allaipiddy, a return village in Jaffna. Considering a significant section of Srilanka’s population has grown up witnessing war and conflict, it is important to look into the problems younger generation has faced as victims and participants of war and the ways in which their grievances could be incorporated in peace building efforts.
Allaipiddy in Velani DS Division in Jaffna is situated in the High Security Zone(HSZ) spreading across 144 sq.km. The villagers of Allaipiddy were the first victims of displacement in 1990. Many of the villagers are fishermen from coastal areas such as Kankesanthurai, Keerimalai while others are interior farmers of Tellipalai. The Sri Lankan security forces moved into Allaipiddy in 1990 in order to establish a camp to facilitate troop movement and supply lines to the Jaffna Fort, which was at that time under the control of the Sri Lanka government. The villagers were forced to vacate the village. By the time of displacement, there had been more than 400 families with approximately 1400 persons. It is reported that 22 people have disappeared during the cause of military campaign.
Allaipiddy remained a contentious spot because of its strategic location. As long as the LTTE retained its base at Pooneryan, the navy needed Allaipiddy to control LTTE sea movements between its base and the government facilities at Kankensanthurai. Secondly the place also served as a supply line for troops in Jaffna.
After Sri Lankan Army established its rule in Jaffna district on 12th April 1996, the displaced community in the district was resettled, yet, villagers of Allaipiddy were prevented to go back to their residences as it was situated in the HSZ. After 2002 following the Ceasefire Agreement between the Government and LTTE; they were resettled.
On 19th May 2006, Allaipiddy villagers faced the Second major displacement following a series of security threats, including the murder of 13 Tamil civilians. They were forced and threatened to leave the village immediately. The posters threatening their lives have been supposedly distributed by a group called “Makkal Padai” (People’s Force), which was doubted to be affiliated with LTTE. By the time of this Second Displacement, there had been 450 families and 250 houses constructed by the World Bank Housing Development Project.
However, majority of the villagers returned to Allaipiddy during the period of 20th May 2006 and 11th August 2006 until they were warned to vacate the area immediately. On 11th August 2006, Voice of Tigers; the official radio station of LTTE, issued an announcement warning the residents of Gurunagar, Passaiyoor, St. Rocks and Columbuthurai of imminent attacks and telling them to vacate the area. With the fear of been caught amidst hostilities between Sri Lanka Army and LTTE, villagers who returned from previous displacement left.
Under the Government’s resettlement programmes, 182 families returned in 2008 and another 160 families returned in June 2009. Currently, there are 350 families in the village.
There are different stories about the incident which caused the displacement in May 2006. 13 Tamil civilians were killed including two women and two children. Whilst the Government accused LTTE for the massacre, many reports have mentioned that the massacre was done by “personnel in civilians alleged to be from the Sri Lanka Navy and carders from Ealam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP).
Youth: Participants and Victims
Participation of youth in conflict situations is critical to understand the impact of conflict as they play a dominant role either as a rebel or as a victim. The participation of youth in conflict is inevitable when they are increasing in numbers and the opportunities for education and employment are limited.
SriLanka has been witness to youth involvement in conflicts throughout the recent history. The two armed youth insurrections in the South led by Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna in 1971 and 1988-89, and violence in North and East which lasted for nearly three decades stand as the best evidence for youth involvement in the rebellious movements in the country.
As per available evidences it is said that, in the Sinhalese segment of the population, active participants in each of the insurgencies of 1971 and 1986-89 never exceeded 20,000 young men and women. Whereas participation of Tamil youth in LTTE insurrection in the North and East was about 3000 youths by the time of the arrival of Indian Peace-Keeping Army in 1987, and it increased to about 10,000 at the time of their retreat from Jaffna in 1995. Considering reports of large scale recruitment occurred during the past few years, this number might have increased at the time of end of the conflict.
Youth involvement in conflicts is influenced by several factors; lack of economic opportunities, increase in grievances, deprivation of development and blocked transition to adulthood. Of all, lack of economic opportunities, deprivation of development and increase in grievances acted as driving forces of violent insurrection in North and East. Though certain conflict resolution theories highlights the fact that youth being the “drivers of conflict” it is to be noted that they are the most vulnerable victims of a conflict. They play a role as offenders or perpetrators, yet, at the same time, opportunities available for development are not accessible to them as a result of the conflict. The large proportion of combatant group is aged between 15 and 30 years, on the other hand majority of the youth population in the country has grown up only witnessing war throughout their life time.
Having taken part as combatants in the conflict, youth have become direct victims. Researchers have proved that the majority in both government military troops and LTTE carders had been between the ages of 15-30 years. Though the Government military group recruited those who are above 18 years of age, LTTE carders consisted of adolescents of 14 years of age. Their recruitment may be either voluntary or forced. Speaking of LTTE, youths were compelled to join the conflict through conscription or abduction.
Findings of the Study
The study conducted in Allaipiddy, Jaffna revealed that, whether or not the youth was directly involved in conflict, they have become direct victims of social, economic, political, psychological and cultural dimensions of conflict. Either victims or perpetrators, it is the future generation of the country who have been most victimized.
The conflict has affected education, social welfare, economic development and as a result it has aggravated unemployment. Concerning the age group of the youths interviewed in Allaipiddy, most of them have dropped out of school due to poverty. Their parents have lost means of income each time they fled home. Allaipiddy is a Fisheries Community and with the increase in hostilities, the fishermen faced restrictions on fishing by Sri Lanka Navy due to security reasons. They were forced to work as day-labourers. They largely depended on dry ration and supports from NGOs.
In most of the families, the children’s education was affected. They dropped out of school and engaged in odd jobs to support their families. There were instances where the elder brothers had to quit school to educate his younger siblings. This situation has a direct impact on today’s youth unemployment. Lack of proper education at their adolescence, lost of family property due to displacement and in certain circumstances, loss of caretakers at young age have affected their current status to find themselves jobs post conflict.
A young mother, speaking of her economic condition explained that she sometimes has to sell dry ration in order to fulfill the daily needs. There are young women who suffer due to lack of a dowry as no man is willing to take their hand without a presentable dowry. Lack of sound educational background prevents them from enjoying available employment opportunities. Though private and public sector offers employment for qualified youth, since most of them could not complete their education they lose a chance in this job sector.
Most of the male members in Allaipiddy were forced to take family responsibilities at a very young age. They could not afford to enjoy the freedom of youth. There are reports where young groups have become victims of substance abuse during (addicted to drug and alcohol).
Subsequently, female youths have sometimes been forced to early marriages and bare children. One girl who spoke to the interviewer regarding her current situation said that she is 21 years old and a widow with two children.
Lack of guardian/caretakers is one of the major social issues seen among the youth groups interviewed. Most of them have lost either both or one of their parents.
Youth is the transition period from childhood to adulthood. It is also a period where young people come across many physical and psychological changes. Therefore, advices and guidance of a responsible adult at this age is mandatory. When parents are killed or disappear due to war, the youth does not have anyone to guide them during their transition.
There are young girls in marriageable age in Allaipiddy who are unable to marry because of lack of the dowry. At the same time, their lack of education prevents them from finding employment with substantial salary.
Lack of shelter is another social issue identified at Allaipiddy. A young woman who explained her experiences mentioned that although she has a piece of land she does not have a house. She is living with her brother. There were few others who lived with friends or relatives due to lack of shelter. They are forced to depend on others.
Young widows and mothers of young children who do not have their own houses are highly vulnerable. Their personal security is at a threat. They could become victims of sexual abuses. Even though they live with friends or relatives, they are still vulnerable to such exploitations.
Those who have been injured due to bombing and shelling are permanently disabled. Some who have been treated for a long time, still face side effects of shelling as the metal pieces cannot be completely removed from their bodies. Permanent disabilities interrupt the economic activities and further, there are some who need the help of a third party to conduct day to day activities.
Having lived in Welfare Centers for a long time, they have not had proper health and sanitary facilities. Hence, they have been victims of epidemic diseases. Unavailability of nutritious food too is a threat to the health of these people. There is a high risk of being a prey of sexual assaults and such victims may encounter social diseases.
Youth of Allaipiddy, as many other youths in North and East, has often been victims of political issues which came about with the conflict. They were often forced to join the LTTE in one hand and on the other they were often looked upon as suspects by the Sri Lanka military forces. One young person, participating in our discussion said that his sister was arrested as a suspect of LTTE and was released after a month’s detention. Yet, the effect of the experience did not fade away even after she was declared her as non-LTTE by Courts. Further, there are incidents where young persons were abducted or where they disappeared.
Of all, the serious damage caused to youth through war is experiences of horror they witnessed since their childhood. It is obvious; the youth have experienced violence and horror than any other aspect in their lives. Post traumatic stress disorders, depression, phobias, personality disorders, illusions and delusions, and abnormal behavior are seen among the youth.
While the government and non-government actors have been taken initiatives to re-build people’s livelihoods, housing etc there remains a question whether the state and non-state actors are giving adequate attention to the youth victims as the findings of the young generation in Allaipiddy indicate. The war has had effect on the youth and this is despite their direct involvement as participants or as indirect victims of physical and emotional violence they have faced in the ongoing years. To add to that experience of forced political involvement during the conflict period and witnessing abduction and disappearances have resulted in lack of trust of society. Therefore there is an urgent need to look into the needs of the youth.
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