(New York) - The Orissa state government in India should develop and put into effect measures to ensure that children are not recruited as "special police officers," Human Rights Watch said in a letter released today, to Orissa's Chief Minister Navin Patnaik. Human Rights Watch also expressed concern that special police officers (SPOs), an auxiliary force, were being used in armed operations against Maoist insurgents, known as Naxalites, contrary to Indian law.

The Orissa government in November 2008 announced a plan to recruit an estimated 2,000 local tribal youth as SPOs to counter Naxalite insurgents in the region. In adjoining Chhattisgarh state, SPOs, including many children under the age of 18, were deployed in armed operations against Naxalites, without adequate protection and training. The Chhattisgarh police claim that it has now removed all children from its ranks, but there are continued allegations that many minors continue to participate in armed operations.
"No matter how serious the threat, Orissa should not use children to fight the Naxalites," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Nor should special police officers, intended only for civilian law enforcement, be sent on paramilitary operations for which they have no training and that leave them at risk of Naxalite reprisals."

In a July 2008 report, "‘Being Neutral Is Our Biggest Crime': Government, Vigilante, and Naxalite Abuses in India's Chhattisgarh State," Human Rights Watch found that the SPOs were routinely deployed alongside paramilitary police on anti-Naxalite combing (search) operations, putting them at risk of injury and death. Many children, including some as young as 14, were recruited and used for dangerous armed operations.

The special police and the Naxalites were also often found to be responsible for serious human rights abuses.