II. Background

The civil war’s impact on children

Nepal’s 10-year civil war has killed nearly 13,000 people.  It has gravely affected the country’s children by exposing them to violence by both sides, disrupting their home lives, limiting their families’ economic activity, and hampering their access to education and health care. The Maoists’ practice of recruiting children has placed children in harm’s way by exposing them directly to the armed conflict. The fear this practice has engendered among Nepal’s rural population has also greatly contributed to the heavy indirect toll the conflict has exacted on Nepal’s children.

The practice of recruiting and using child soldiers was taking place at such an alarming rate in Nepal that it was one of seven countries selected to implement a monitoring and reporting mechanism on violations against children in armed conflict established under UN Security Council Resolution 1612, unanimously adopted in July 2006.1 The council established the monitoring and reporting mechanism in order to improve the protection of children exposed to armed conflict, with a special emphasis on ending the practice of recruiting and using child soldiers.

Nepali NGOs estimate that over the past decade approximately 400 children have been killed directly by the warring parties and more than 600 have been injured.2 Many were killed or injured during armed clashes or through extrajudicial executions carried out by each side; dozens were killed as a result of indiscriminate attacks by the combatants. Nepali children also suffered from the explosives that constituted the detritus of the conflict: according to UNICEF, Nepali children suffered the second highest rate of injuries caused by explosives in the world.3 Hundreds of children suffered as a result of the landmines and unexploded ordinance left behind by the warring sides, particularly as a result of the Maoists’ penchant for using—and leaving behind—improvised explosive devices.4 Security forces routinely abused detained children suspected of cooperating with Maoist forces (see section VI, below).

The conflict aggravated the problems of Nepal’s already impoverished population. In 1996 Nepal ranked 124 out of 137 countries listed in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index. A decade later the country’s ranking had dropped to 136th, but even this masked the more serious degradation of conditions in the country’s impoverished countryside, which are significantly worse off than urban areas. For instance, the under-five mortality rate in urban areas is 93.6 per 1,000, whereas in rural areas it jumps to 147 per 1,000 and in mountainous areas, it escalated to a staggering 201 per 1,000.5 Economic disruptions caused by fighting and frequent blockades and checkpoints have curtailed food production and distribution, resulting in high rates of malnutrition and associated childhood maladies.6 Conditions are particularly bad for populations displaced by the fighting, as demonstrated by research conducted by the NGO Terre des Hommes on internally displaced people in the highly affected mid-western areas of Nepal, where nearly 60 percent of the children suffered from malnutrition, 16 percent of them critically so.7

The civil war also strained the social structure necessary for the development of children. As part of their recruitment campaigns, described in more detail below, Maoists abducted thousands of children; most were returned to their families after a brief “reeducation” campaign, but many were forcibly recruited.8 Many more children, particularly boys, fled their homes to avoid these recruitment campaigns. The Maoists used these “reeducation” campaigns to identify likely candidates for future recruitment. The “reeducation” campaigns also provided the Maoists with the opportunity to take in thousands of children who enlisted “voluntarily”—no less a violation of international law, which explicitly prohibits the use of child soldiers, no matter how the children were taken into Maoist ranks. Tens of thousands of Nepali children also left their homes due to extreme poverty aggravated by the decade of fighting.9 CWIN estimates that the conflict and associated pauperization of the populace displaced 40,000 Nepali children. While exact numbers are difficult to come by, telling evidence comes from an NGO survey of five border crossing points into India in western Nepal. The survey documented 17,000 children migrating to India (only 8,000 children came back during the same time period); a quarter of them said they were fleeing the conflict, while a third left home because of poverty.10

Education, too, suffered because of the conflict. The fighting slowed, and in some cases reversed, notable improvements in school enrolment rates and literacy since 1991.11 Warfare directly impinged on children’s schooling, as Maoists widely recruited children from schools, while government forces often used schools for shelter, and schools were mined or bombed.12 The social disruption caused by the conflict also hindered children’s access to education. According to a 2006 comprehensive report on the condition of women and children in Nepal by UNICEF, 

[t]he armed conflict has affected children of all ages through its impact on their families. However, it has particularly affected children by disrupting their education and interfering with their access to healthcare. Some children have been removed from school to help at home, as older members of the family have migrated away from their home village to avoid recruitment by the Communist Party of Nepal– Maoist… or harassment by the security forces. Children of families displaced by the fighting can expect their schooling to be temporarily suspended or even stopped, their access to healthcare to be made more difficult, and their living and environmental conditions to deteriorate and become less stable. Some children will be pushed into the labour market.13

The People’s Movement and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement

Nepal’s political situation, and hopes for peace and an end to the recruitment of child soldiers, took a dramatic turn in April 2006 when King Gyanendra was forced from political power. Over the course of 19 tumultuous days, hundreds of thousands of Nepalis took to the streets throughout the country in order to stop what was widely viewed as the country’s slide toward disaster. The Jana Andolan II—“The People’s Movement” (the “II” marks it as a sequel to the popular uprising in 1990 that first ushered in parliamentary rule in the country)—was a response to two distinct but related crises. The first crisis was the escalation of the civil war, which threatened to engulf the entire country. The second crisis blossomed on February 1, 2005, when King Gyanendra, citing the inability of Nepal’s civilian government to resolve the civil war, used the Royal Nepali Army to assume all authority and crush any dissent.14

By April 2006, after more than a year of absolute rule, Gyanendra had come no closer to resolving the civil war, and even his security forces could no longer protect him from the concerted display of popular discontent as the Jana Andolan II gathered

In April 2006, public demonstrations challenged King Gyanendra’s year-long authoritarian rule despite the use of excessive force by Nepali security forces.  © 2006 Reuters

force. Although security forces resorted to excessive force to quell the demonstrations, even firing on unarmed protesters, Gyanendra was forced to give up his absolute power on April 24. Nepal’s democratically elected parliament resumed deliberations and selected a cabinet composed of members of the seven major political parties that had opposed Gyanendra’s rule. The seven parties had already negotiated an agreement with the Maoists to call a constituent assembly in order to rewrite the country’s constitution, and to seek a political resolution to the civil war.

On November 21, 2006, the seven-party government and the Maoists signed a comprehensive agreement to govern a peace process, the establishment of a constituent assembly to redraft the country’s constitution (the continued existence of a monarchy is one of the issues to be determined), and the establishment of an interim government. This agreement explicitly referred to the parties’ respect for human rights in its preamble as well as in more detail throughout the text. The agreement’s preamble refers to the parties’ commitment “towards the Universal Declaration of Human rights, [1948], international humanitarian laws and basic principles and acceptance relating to human rights” while section 7 deals in some detail with various specific rights, including the principle of non-discrimination [section 7.1.1], the right to life [section 7.2], the prohibition on arbitrary or illegal detention (including a commitment to provide information about the fate of those “disappeared”) [section 7.3.2], and respect for civil, political, economic, and social rights [sections 7.4 and 7.5].

At this writing (January 2007), there is real hope that the peace agreement will last this time, despite various infractions of the agreement by the CPN (M) and the Nepali military and the failure of the seven-party government to act as quickly as demanded by the Nepali public. On August 9, 2006, the government and the Maoists officially requested the United Nations to assist them with negotiations toward a permanent political resolution, including international help with the process of demobilizing, decommissioning, and reintegrating the two armed forces.15 In the same month, the process of rewriting the Nepali constitution moved ahead with various drafts of a new constitution circulating and various political and social groups vying for influence on the country’s new political structure. Taken together, these moves have been hailed as signs of real movement toward resolving Nepal’s civil war as well as its underlying causes.

As part of the parties’ commitment to protect economic and social rights, section 7.5.4 of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement states that

[b]oth sides agree to guarantee that the right to education would not be impeded. They agree to put to an end, on an immediate basis, activities like taking the educational institutions under control and using them, abducting teachers and students, taking them under control and making them to disappear.

This language seems to be a response to the Nepali Army’s frequently criticized practice of establishing posts at or near schools, as well as the Maoists’ practice of forcibly recruiting students from schools, which we shall describe in more detail in section III below.

Most significantly, the agreement prohibits the general practice of using child soldiers age 18 or younger in section 7.6.1, and articulates the responsibility to assist such children. The full text of the section states:

Both sides fully agree to protect the rights of the women and children in a special way, to immediately stop all types of violence against women and children, including child labour as well as sexual exploitation and abuse. They also fully agree not to include or use children who are 18 years old and below in the armed force. Children thus affected would be instantaneously rescued and necessary and suitable assistance would be provided for their rehabilitation. [Emphasis added.]

Despite real optimism about the parties’ commitment to this peace process, much needs to be done. A previous attempt at a ceasefire and comprehensive peace talks fell apart in 2001 after only a few months and set off the war’s bloodiest period. As a result, Nepalis are anxious about the success of current peace negotiations, and seek immediate implementation of policies that will improve the lives of ordinary people. One cause for particular concern has been the Maoists’ ongoing recruitment of children (see section III below).16 As explained by the Secretary-General of the United Nations in his report on children and armed conflict in Nepal,“ a serious concern since the April 2006 ceasefire is that recruitment and use, and abductions of children by CPN (M) continue.”17

Furthermore, the ceasefire has not immediately translated into an improvement in other aspects of the risk to children, as unexploded ordinance and mines continue to jeopardize many lives.  In fact, as pointed out by Nepal’s National Coalition for Children as Zones of Peace, “[i]n the period of four months before the cease-fire, five children died and 25 were injured, but during the period of hundred days after the cease-fire, the number of children who have died and sustained injuries have stood at four and 26 respectively.”18

1 UN Security Council, Resolution 1612 (2005), S/RES/1612 (2005), (accessed January 5, 2007). Seven countries are pilot countries for country-level reporting: Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. The UN Interagency Taskforce decided to add the last two in order to demonstrate the importance of the same issues in countries that are not already on the Security Council agenda. See “Member States Renew Commitment to Protecting Children in Armed Conflict,” UNICEF news note, July 24, 2006, (accessed on January 5, 2007); and Canadian Peacebuilding Coordinating Committee (CPCC), “Resolution 1612: Making It Work for Children and Youth,” March 2006, (accessed September 8, 2006).

2 Exact figures are impossible to obtain, although data from different sources is fairly similar. The inconsistencies may be due to different criteria for measuring casualties directly caused by the conflict. The highly respected Nepali NGO, INSEC, recorded 34 children killed through October 8, 2006. INSEC, “Number of Children Killed by State and Maoists in Connection ‘People’s War’ (13 Feb., 1996 – 8 Oct., 2006),” (accessed January 15, 2007). The Nepali Coalition for Children as Zones of Peace, operating through Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN), reported 445 children killed and 522 injured by April 2006, (retrieved December 10, 2006).

3 Human Rights Watch interview with Hugues Laurenge, UNICEF, Kathmandu, March 17, 2006. Naresh Newar, “Bomb Warning,” The Nepali Times, March 10–March 16, 2006.

4 According to the latest data available from Nepal’s National Coalition to Ban Landmines, 56 children were killed or injured by landmines through June 2005; in 2004, the NCBL reported 134 children killed or injured by landmines. Landmine Monitor 2005, “Nepal,” (accessed October 15, 2006).

5 Sonal Singh, Erik Bøhler, Khagendra Dahal, Edward Mills, “The State of Child Health and Human Rights in Nepal,” July 2006, Public Library of Science-Medicine, (accessed October 15, 2006), citing Nepal Ministry of Health, “Nepal Demographic and Health Survey 2001,” 2002.

6 Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, “Caught in the middle: Mounting violations against children in Nepal’s armed conflict,” 2005, (accessed October 15, 2006).

7 Terre des Hommes Nepal, “Nutritional status of the children victims of the armed conflict in Nepal: A survey report among IDP children in Banke district,” 2005, (accessed October 10, 2006).

8 Child Workers in Nepal, April 2006, (accessed October 8, 2006).

9 UNICEF, “Situation of Women and Children in Nepal 2006,” March 23, 2006, (accessed October 10, 2006).

10 Central Child Welfare Board and Save the Children Alliance, “An Increasing Wave: Migration of Nepalese Children to India in the Context of Nepal’s Armed Conflict,” Kathmandu, 2005.

11 UNICEF, “Situation of Women and Children in Nepal 2006,” chapter 5.

12 Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, “Caught in the middle.”

13 UNICEF, “Situation of Women and Children in Nepal 2006.”

14 For an overview of Nepal’s human rights situation at the time, see Human Rights Watch, Nepal’s Civil War: The Conflict Resumes, March 28, 2006,

15 Sushil Sharma, “UN Team to Monitor Arms in Nepal,” BBC News Online, August 14, 2006, (accessed October 8, 2006).

16 “Rights Activists Demand Demobilization of Child Soldiers,” IRINnews, August 15, 2006, (accessed October 8, 2006); “Nepal: School Children Still Being Put at Risk, Say Activists,” IRINnews, August 28, 2006, (accessed October 8, 2006).

17 Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Nepal, December 20, 2006, S/2006/1007, p.3.

18 National Coalition for Children as Zones of Peace, “Hundred Days of Democracy: Children Are Still Ignored,” August 3, 2006, on file with Human Rights Watch.