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(New York) - Nepal’s Maoist armed forces should immediately release all children from their forces, including thousands of child soldiers held for months in cantonment sites in Nepal, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch in a letter today urged the new Minister of Women, Children and Social Welfare, Khadga Bahadur Bishwakarma, to secure the Maoists’ cooperation with the United Nations and child protection agencies to allow children to return home without further delay. Bishwakarma is also a member of the central committee of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist).

Of more than 30,000 Maoist cadres registered in the cantonment sites created under Nepal’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement, an estimated 6,000 to 9,000 are believed to be children under the age of 18.

“There’s no excuse for letting children languish in cantonment sites month after month,” said Jo Becker, children’s advocate at Human Rights Watch. “Under the terms of Nepal’s peace agreement, these children should be released immediately so they can enter rehabilitation programs, get back into school, and rejoin their families.”

The November 2006 peace agreement between the Nepalese government and the Maoists specifically prohibits the enlistment or use of children under the age of 18, and specifies that such children should be immediately “rescued” and provided with rehabilitation services.

The Human Rights Watch letter noted that Bishwakarma attended a February conference in Paris, where representatives from 58 states committed themselves to putting an end to the unlawful recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts. At the conference, governments agreed to support and apply new guidelines, known as the “Paris Principles,” for protecting children from recruitment and providing assistance to those who have already been involved with armed forces or groups.

“Minister Bishwakarma should work with the Maoists to implement the commitments that have been made,” said Becker. Human Rights Watch also noted its deep concern at credible reports that children continue to be recruited by Maoist forces in various parts of the country.

In the February 2007 report, “Children in the Ranks: The Maoists’ Use of Child Soldiers in Nepal,” Human Rights Watch documented how children as young as 14 served on the front lines, received weapons training, and carried out crucial military and logistical support duties for the Maoists. The report also documented ongoing recruitment of children by the Maoists even after the signing of the peace agreement.

A December 2006 report by the United Nations secretary-general to the UN Security Council specifically recommended that the Maoists should immediately end the use of children and cease any new recruitment of children. It said the Maoists should immediately engage with the UN country team in Nepal for an action plan to ensure transparent procedures for the release and verification of all children within the Maoist armed forces and all other CPN-Maoist-affiliated organizations.

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