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.
I am from a very large family. My family is very poor. Our problem is poverty and our life was an eternal struggle. We lived in a small house. We had only two rooms for all of us. We had chickens at home — this brought some income. All of us worked hard, but we had not enough money for our needs. We tried to get daily paid work, which was hard to come by as there was always the war going on.
All the time what I was hearing was that the people and the army were giving trouble. From the time I was about 10 years old I was thinking and thinking and planning that I should also do something for my people. One day I left home at about 7 p.m. and walked alone for two miles. In the area where I lived you can go out alone any time and no one will hurt you. So I walked and walked without any fear to a base.
I was angry with as they had done lot of damage to my people and I don’t think they will ever like us. I had a furious feeling within me against them terrible angry fire within me. You know they have not only just killed our people — they have put them into tar barrels, burnt with tires. Our children were put into boiled water. People in the border villages were cut up.
After a while I was taken into the real base in the jungle and I was placed in the ladies group where I was to get used to everything for about two weeks. Within three months of my joining I was put onto basic training. I was small but I got jeans and shirt to wear. The uniform was of green stripes. Food was not that easy to get — but somehow or other we managed. We always drank boiled water.
You don’t even sleep on a Sunday. I was trained for all types of attacks. Group attacks, single attack, finding out missions and various ways of escaping. Till the day I was caught I was fighting; have been in attacks where we were victorious. When I launched into a fight I have to defend myself and not get caught. Will the army catch me? Will they take me and abuse me? These were always in my mind.
We are all classed as traitors by both sides. As soon as you are caught the movement will think you will betray them and the army will not trust because you have also killed them. This I feel is a terrible situation. I don’t think people in this country will ever feel good towards us. You know what has happened to our brothers? We too could be killed and what can you do? Maybe there is something called retribution. The way I feel about my family and my people they will also feel about theirs. We lost that trust forever. Sometimes I feel terrible, have let my side down? I still have a sad painful feeling in my mind, after all the efforts I could not see my people get their freedom. Now I am a prisoner.
I don’t make close friends with anyone. I don’t trust anyone; I keep everything to myself. I am a lonely person throughout my life. Who am I now? I have an identity card, which does not mean anything. I am confused and sometimes I worry whether I will be able to live as a free person where I was born and struggled to live. I am not afraid of death now.
Nothing is going right. I don’t know what is happening. God has become a stone. He does not listen to our prayers. Nothing happens the way we want to.
I’ll live for my family. I am not worried about myself. I have family and I want to help all of them in whatever way I can. I’ll now sacrifice myself for them. I want to go abroad. I have no future here. Everyone in the village will know who is who. And who did what.
Eternally I have to be running away from everybody. How long do I run? I don’t know. I did not study because of our poverty. Nobody should be born poor. If you are poor— you are like a corpse. I must earn a living. I am waiting anxiously for my mother to come. She said that she would sell our house and bring me money. Anyway she will have to find money for me to go abroad. That’s all I have, nothing else to tell you.
Narrative as recorded in 2002 by staff working for the Quaker United Nations Office.