Children’s Day has come and gone. It is time that we reflect on the plight of children in the states affected by Maoist violence.
A report prepared by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights in the country in 2010 revealed that children were being recruited by Maoist groups through intimidation and abduction. The Union Minister of State for Women and Child Development, Krishna Tirath, informed the Lok Sabha a few months ago that Maoists were “recruiting children from families of poor backward segments of society and indoctrinating them under the garb of socio-political education”.
The United Nations Secretary General on children and armed conflict, taking cognisance of these unfortunate developments, mentioned in a report that the Maoists in India were recruiting and indoctrinating children, and that they had constituted children’s squads and associations known as Bal Dastas, Bal Sanghams or Bal Manch. The Government of India does not recognise Left Wing extremist violence as an ‘armed conflict’ under the international law. As such, while it admits recruitment of children by the Maoists, it does not look upon them as ‘child soldiers’. The Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), in a press release on May 9, 2013, accused the Government of India of defending the armed opposition groups, officially designated as terrorists groups, on the recruitment of child soldiers before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. In its report on the implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict to the UN Committee in 2011, the Indian government stated that there was no recruitment of child soldiers by the armed groups as “India does not face either international or non-international armed conflict situations”. The position taken by the Government of India, according to the ACHR, is “bizarre” because it amounts to protecting the terror groups from condemnation of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child for recruitment of child soldiers, a war crime under the international law. Semantics apart, the hard facts are harrowing.
A report released by an NGO, Save the Children, on November 14, 2013, also throws a flood of light on the condition of children in these civil strife-affected regions, and states that their condition had been overshadowed by the discourse on conflict and conflict resolution. The children in these areas face huge challenges with the presence of armed police forces on the one hand and Maoists on the other. They are caught in the crossfire. Several schools have been destroyed by the Maoists, while some continue to be occupied by the security forces. There is high level of absenteeism among the teachers, apart from the fact that there are huge vacancies.
According to media reports, unconfirmed though, the Maoists have recruited about 10,000 children, including girls, across Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha. The ostensible purpose is to use them as couriers and make them do household chores. In actual fact, however, they are given basic training in the handling of weapons also. There was an incident in Latehar district of Jharkhand in September 2013 in which 10 children were abducted by the Maoists from Chuku Bandua village and given training in the laying of IEDs. One of the boys, Pardesi (12 years) son of Jirokan Lohra, died due to accidental triggering of explosives and his body was sent to the village with instructions that the family should quietly bury it. Police got the scent of it and they exhumed the body. Autopsy confirmed blast injuries as the cause of death. It was not an isolated incident. The CRPF has pictures and videos of children in battle fatigues armed with sophisticated weapons in Maoist camps. These children, in course of time, graduate into regular guerrillas of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army.
The government is implementing the ‘Bal Bandhu’ scheme to tackle the problem. It is being run in some districts of five states of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. The project seeks to address children’s needs in respect of education, health, nutrition and safety. Obviously, much more needs to be done. What is, however, disturbing is the eloquent silence of the human rights groups to this tragedy.