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VI. Recruitment and Use of Children by Maoists

The conflict between government forces and Maoist rebels has had a profound effect on children throughout the country.156  Human Rights Watch did not specifically investigate the Maoist’s recruitment and use of children as soldiers or in other capacities during hostilities.  However, accounts gathered by Human Rights Watch indicate that  that the Maoists have recruited children and used them for logistical support in front line combat, for carrying ammunitions and supplies, and as cooks and porters.157  

 The Maoists initially made no attempt to hide the fact that they use children in hostilities declaring, for example, that “the increasing participation of women in the People’s War has had another bonanza… [namely] the drawing of children in the process of war and their politicization.”158  Over time, and under increasing criticism, the Maoists have denied recruiting and abducting children less than eighteen years old.159  This denial is contradicted by the findings of human rights groups and Nepal experts.160 

As recently as February 23, 2004, the student wing of the Maoists stated that the Maoists were going to raise a fifty thousand strong child militia in order to counter a sharp dwindling of their ranks.161  “There is no age limit for recruitment to the child militia but bona fide rules of war will apply,” said Maoist student leader Kamal Shahi.  “None will be coerced. One militia will be levied from each school.”162 Children who have been taken into the Maoist forces and then released have also reported to human rights groups that they received guerrilla combat training.163 

The RNA and the government claim that the Maoists send in waves of civilians, including children, in the fore guard of an attack, in an attempt to cripple the army’s capacity to fight back.164  However, the government has not to date provided a detailed accounting of the use of children by Maoist forces beyond what has been reported in the media.165   

The use of children in armed conflict is a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which Nepal ratified in 1990.  The CRC sets fifteen as the minimum age for military recruitment, but in all other respects defines a child as anyone less than eighteen years of age.166  The CRC standard is derived from Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions, now considered customary international law, which prohibits all parties to an internal armed conflict from recruiting children under the age of fifteen or allowing them to take part in hostilities.167 The Optional Protocol to the CRC on the involvement of children in armed conflicts, to which Nepal is a signatory, prohibits states parties from compulsorily recruiting children under age eighteen or having them take a direct part in hostilities.168  The Optional Protocol prohibits armed groups, under any circumstances, from recruiting or using in hostilities persons under the age of eighteen years.169

The government of Nepal has not established a functional rehabilitation and re-integration program for former Maoists combatants, child or adult, and has paid no special attention to rehabilitating or reintegrating child soldiers in particular.  While some child soldiers reportedly returned home after the ceasefire was declared on January 29, 2003, they were not officially demobilized.  At the time, these children told journalists they were afraid that they could be re-recruited if the conflict resumed;170 what has happened to them since the breakdown of talks in August 2003 is unknown.  The capacity of the government or international donors who work in Maoist-controlled areas to gather facts and install protection and reintegration programs is very limited.

In addition to the use of children in combat, the Maoists have forcibly abducted students from schools for political indoctrination.  Children and adults who have been abducted describe being given lectures on Maoism and on their rights as citizens.  There is also a cultural program during indoctrination, where Maoist songs and dances are taught.  This practice is well-reported and is readily admitted by the Maoists.171  While most abducted children are returned days or weeks later, others remain unaccounted for.172  Some of the girls who were released after abductions have reported sexual abuse to human rights groups.173  

Child abductions have had a debilitating impact on the educational system, causing many parents to keep their children at home rather than risk sending them to school, and, in some places, forcing the schools to shut down.  For instance, following the abduction of sixty-five students from a school in Bafikot in Rukum in March 2004, the principal closed the school because students were too traumatized to attend.174  A teacher in a village near Nepalgunj told Human Rights Watch that attendance in her school has dropped dramatically since news of the abductions started filtering in earlier in 2004. “Parents say ‘we will send our children to school if you guarantee their safety.’ When there is no guarantee of our own safety, how can we guarantee the lives of our students?’”175  A coalition of children’s rights groups, Child Workers in Nepal Concerned  Centre  (CWIN), maintains that as many as half a million children are being deprived of their right to education because they are kept at home for fear of abductions.176  

The Maoists have also reportedly abducted, presumably in the hope that they can be instrumental in forcing children to enlist; teachers who have refused to cooperate have been killed.177 

[156] State of the Rights of the Child in Nepal: Nepal 2003, (Nepal: Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Centre (CWIN), 2003).  According to CWIN, until January 2004, two hundred and seventy eight children had been killed in the conflict and one hundred and sixty one injured.  [online] (retrieved April 1, 2004).

[157]  See below, Human Rights Watch interview with Renu Ale; State of the Rights of the Child in Nepal – 2003, Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Centre  (CWIN), 2003.  One Maoist Human Rights Watch talked to said that the Maoists encourage children to spy on their neighbors and discover possible traitors. “Children find out many things because no one pays attention to them,” he explained. 

[158] Statement published on official Maoist website, August 2003, [online] (retrieved September 27, 2004.)

[159] “Maoists deny charges of using child soldiers”, The Sunday Post, April 20, 2003, [online] (retrieved September 27, 2004); “Rebel leader on Nepal's 'last war”, CNN Interview, November 14, 2002, [online] (retrieved September 28, 2004.)

[160] See, for example, “Nepal: A Spiraling Human Rights Crisis,” AI ASA 31/016/2002; “Nepal: A Deepening Human Rights Crisis,” AI ASA 31/072/2002.  Thapa, A Kingdom Under Siege, 162; Gautam, Shobha, Amrit Baskota, and Rita Manchanda, Where There are No Men, (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2001.)  Dr. Gopal Krishna Siwakoti, Executive Director of the International Institute of Human Rights, Environment and Development (INHURED) wrote in 2003 that “there is an evidential fear that children are being deliberately recruited as combatants. This has been made convincing by the fact that dozens of children are becoming victims of the target.  The problem is most prevalent in Rukum,Rolpa and Jajarkot, Gorkha, Salyan, Sindhupalchowk, Kavre and Sindhuli districts, although several other districts are being crippled with violence. Most children taking part in armed conflict are found between 14 to 18 years of age, but many are believed to have been recruited from the age of below 15, and the use of even younger children cannot be ruled out.”

[161] See remarks of Kamal Shahi of the All Nepal National Independent Students' Union–Revolutionary (ANNISU-R) in “Nepal Maoists to raise 50,000-strong child militia,” Indo-Asian News Service, February 2, 2004,

[online], (retrieved September 27, 2004.)

[162] “Abduction of Children”, UN Office of the Special Representative for Children & Armed Conflict, [online]

[163] ibid.

[164] “Polls on despite Beni clash:Govt,” March 23, 2004.[online] (retrieved March 27, 2004.)  However, an international human rights officer who investigated the fighting in Beni told Human Rights Watch that there was no evidence of the use of civilians by the Maoists. 

[165] See Second and Third Combined periodic national report of Nepal to the CRC, CRC/C/65/Add.3, December 2002, para. 317.

[166] Article 38, Convention on the Rights of the Child, G.A. Resolution 44/25, November 20, 1989, entered into force September 2, 1990.  Human Rights Watch takes the position that no one under the age of eighteen should take part in armed conflict.

[167] Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), June 8, 1977.

[168] Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of

children in armed conflicts, G.A. Res. 54/263, Annex I, 54 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at

7, U.N. Doc. A/54/49, Vol. III (2000), entered into force February 12, 2002, art. 1 and 2.

[169] Ibid., art. 4.

[170]  “Child soldiers wish for peace, do not want to return to the jungle,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, May 2, 2003.

[171]  See, for example, “200 school children abducted in Acchham,” December 6, 2003; “150 students abducted”, January 27, 2003; “153 students, 5 teachers abducted,” February 1, 2004; “65 more students abducted,” February 2, 2004; “Over 60 students abducted from Rukum,” February 27, 2004; “Maoists abduct 40 students, kill 2 civilians,” March 30, 2004; “Maoists abduct over 500 students,” April 29, 2004; “over 30 students, teachers abducted in Jumla,” May 25, 2004; “500 students, teachers abducted in Jajarkot,” June 8, 2004; “Maoists abduct 38 students in Taplejung,” June 14, 2004, [online] (retrieved September 28, 2004.)

[172] “Abduction of Children”, UN Office of the Special Representative for Children & Armed Conflict, [online] (retrieved September 28, 2004.)

[173] ibid.

[174] “War School,” Nepali Times, March 11, 2004.

[175] Human Rights Watch interview with a teacher in Banke district, name withheld, March 15, 2004.

[176] See CWIN, Doti Incident: Against the Understanding from State and Non-State Parties on Children Being Zones of Peace, October 15, 2003, [online] (retrieved Aptil 10, 2004.)

[177]  See, for example, “Maoists abduct 5 dozen teachers in Dadeldhura,” April 3, 2004; “Maoists abduct over 60 teachers in Taplejung,” April 15, 2004; “Maoists release 700 teachers,” May 28, 2004; “Over 80 teachers abducted in Udaypur, Sindhupalchowk,” May 31, 2004; “500 teachers abducted in Udaypur,” June 4, 2004, [online] (retrieved September 28, 2004.)

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