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By James Elder
VAVUNIYA, Sri Lanka, 26 February 2009 As the star cricketer on his school team, Sitha would always count the days until Saturday and the morning of his next match. It was his weekly moment of glory, a time when all the other boys in his village in northern Sri Lanka came to watch him take out his bat, put on his cricket helmet and stride to the wicket.
But on one particular Saturday, as he slid his helmet on, tears rolled down his face. A year earlier Sitha, had been abducted by an armed group. He was taken to a camp where he and other children were forced to train with weapons and shown how to plant landmines.
As part of the training, Sitha he wore battle fatigues and a military helmet. His cricketing days were seemingly over. At the age of just 12, he was a child soldier.
They sent me to the battlefront
Since 2002, nearly 7,000 Sri Lankan children like Sitha reportedly have been recruited into armed groups. Their predicament is exacerbated by a 25-year conflict between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that has killed more than 70,000 people.
This year, fighting has greatly intensified and child soldiers are being thrown to the front line.
I was taken to a camp and forced to use guns, said Sitha. I was scared and just wanted to be back with my family. Then they sent me to the battlefront. I saw terrible things, and some of my friends being killed.
Campaign to end child recruitment
As part of a national programme to tackle the issue of child soldiers, the President of Sri Lanka and UNICEF today launched a national campaign to prevent child recruitment and promote the release of all recruited children.
Bring Back the Child is a multimedia initiative directed towards armed groups, vulnerable communities and affected children. The campaign is made possible by the financial support of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and UNICEF France.
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