India’s Child Soldiers: Reality Check

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I joined the military dalam when I was 13 or 14 years old. I was studying in an ashram school (government run residential school) in eighth standard, when Naxalites came to my hostel. I did not want to go. They said I could study until the 10th standard, but I should go with them. We got training, learnt about landmines and a little karate. (Finally) I had an opportunity to run away… One year after I ran away, both my younger brothers (age 8 and 12) were killed (by the Naxalites in retaliation). They beat my mother and broke her arm. They burned our house and took all our things. (Former Child Dalam member, December 2007) [1]

The police asked me also to become an SPO (special police officer) but I refused because I did not want to become an SPO and commit heinous crimes. I did not want to shoot and kill people. They do not ask anyone how old they are. Even 14 year olds can become SPOs if the police want them to become SPOs. (Poosam Kanya (pseudonym), former resident of Errabore Camp, December 2007) [2]

The above two statements exemplify the horror of exposing children to conflict. They find themselves sandwiched between the violence perpetrated by armed opposition groups and the State armed forces. The Government of India is a signatory to the optional protocol on the Involvement of children in armed conflict [3], which was further ratified on 30th November, 2005.

According to Asian Centre for Human Rights, there are 3000 child soldiers (including State forces and armed opposition groups) in India (as of March 2013), 500 in the State of Jammu and Kashmir and Northeast India; 2500 in the left wing extremism affected areas. These figures form only the tip of the iceberg. The periodic report submitted by the Government of India (prepared by Ministry of Women and Child Development) in 2011 on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict to the Convention on the Rights of Child has not only denied the existence of child soldiers in India but also misrepresented facts regarding sub conventional conflict taking place in various parts of the country. The report states “Even though India does not face armed conflict, there are legislative provisions that prevent involvement of children in armed conflict and provide care and protection to children affected by armed conflict” [4]. UN Committee on the Child of rights is scheduled to consider it during its 66th pre-sessional working group to be held in Geneva from 7-11 October, 2013.

This denial has not only distorted facts but also justified or rather absolved rampant recruitment of child soldiers in the armed opposition groups who are increasingly becoming an internal security threat. While terrorist organisations in India have an unprecedented number of child soldiers in their ranks, there are reports of the state police forces too, having recruited people below the age of 18 years. As per unconfirmed reports, the Chhattisgarh police has recruited approximately 300 “Bal Rakshaks” seven of whom are posted with 4th battalion (engaged in counter insurgency) of Chhattisgarh Police at Mana in Raipur. These reports still need to be verified.

Considering there is a large number of children in the armed conflict of left wing extremism, which has caused an irreparable damage to their lives, it becomes imperative to analyse what drives so many children to pick up arms. Recently, Muppalla Laxmana Rao aka Ganapathi in a 7000  words letter to party members has admitted having crisis within the party due to lack of leaders not only at the top but also in party ranks. Lack of volunteers for the cause is perhaps driving the Maoist leadership to recruit child soldiers. This is clearly visible in the exceptional number of women and children in the naxal cadres. Around 40 to 60 percent of naxal cadres now comprise of women.

Maoists also have a policy of forcibly recruiting at least one child from every family. With heightened security in the region, they use children for covert operations, which involve planting and ferrying lethal weapons and explosives. Mass exodus of leaders from Maoist cadres has led to large-scale recruitment of children who are easy to terrorise and manipulate. A top commander of a banned terrorist outfit (on condition of anonymity) revealed to Tehelka Magazine that, “Minors are an easier lot to train. Initially the boys cry but they also fall in line quickly, because they are fresh and smart. By the time they are fully trained, they can serve the party for a long time. We even recruit girls; they are not given arms training. Some freelancers and collaborators recruit minors for us on commission basis”.

In September 2013, few gun toting rebels abducted eight children and two adults to groom them to make bombs. “They forcibly dragged our children into the nearby jungles and disappeared even as we pleaded for mercy”, says Bilokhan Lohra. His 10 year old son, Pardeshi Lohra was amongst those who were abducted. A week ago, his mutilated body was found dumped near his house, his stomach ruptured and hands torn. The post mortem report has revealed that he lost his life during an explosion. No child of a tribal family deserves that fate. As per the report by Hindustan Times on September 20, 2013, Jharkhand Police has prepared a list of Maoist leaders whose lives are soaked in corruption. The Maoist leaders are busy carving out bright prospects for their own children while putting the lives of other’s children at risk. Some details are:

  • The son of CPI Maoist Central Committee member Pramod Mishra arrested from Dhanbad colliery town of Jharkhand some years ago, is a qualified engineer.
  • Ugeshwarji, sub zonal commander of the CPI (Maoist) leads the operation in the border areas of Bihar and Jharkhand has four daughters, three of whom study in a private English school in Latehar.
  • Maoist Commander Shivlal Yadav’s sons study in a good private school in Daltonganj.
  • Gopal Ganjhu the sub zonal commander sends his two kids to a popular school.

In left wing extremism affected areas, schools are being targeted to propagate the Maoist ideology. Lessons imparted to young, impressionable minds are distinctly anti-establishment and give a message that a revolution is necessary to overthrow the Government. Government run schools have shut down due to high violence levels forcing the locals to send their children to naxal run schools. This way, many children voluntarily fall into their trap and launch attacks against the State forces.

Due to lack of state intervention in the developmental paradigm of the region, glorification of war by the naxals and the irreparable psychological damage caused by a long drawn conflict, children are increasingly drifting towards the Maoist ideology. As per Mr. Shubhranshu Choudhary, founder of CGNET Swara and author of “Let’s call him Vasu”, “300 boys of the naxal cadres went to Nayagarh from Chhattisgarh. They walked undetected for 3 months with two guns each on their shoulders. If this is possible in India, then we are headed for a very dangerous situation”.

India’s denial of the existence of child soldiers in its armed conflict deprives many families of mere hope to receive justice for having sacrificed the lives of their children. At a time when International Court of Justice has given verdicts against terror outfits in Africa for using child soldiers, which has also contributed towards maligning their image, India has perhaps missed the opportunity. Few recommendations that emerge out of the article are as follows:

  • Awareness has to be generated regarding the issue of child soldiers in India through media and academic circles.
  • Integrated Child Protection Scheme launched by the MWCD in 2009 already provides care and protection to children affected by or involved in conflict. A comprehensive rehabilitation scheme should be designed especially child soldiers to control their ever-increasing number.
  • Strict action should be taken against individuals or groups who are responsible for recruiting child soldiers.
  • Integration of children into mainstream society through intervention in the field of education and health in conflict zones would be vital.

Author Biography

Pratibha is a researcher & writer on issues pertaining to women in conflict zones at the Institute for Transnational Studies and a graduate student at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy.

This article was originally written and published in 2013 for the Center of Law Warfare Studies and is republished here with the permission of the author.

Notes and References:

[1]Dangerous Duty: Children and the Chattisgarh Conflict, Report by Human Right Watch, September,2008

[2] Ibid

[3] Article 2 of the Optional Protocol to the CRC provides that “State parties shall ensure that persons who have not attained the age of 18 years are not compulsorily recruited into their armed forces”. Article 3 further provides the minimum age for the voluntary recruitment into the national armed forces shall be 18 years and above. Article 4 states that the armed opposition groups should not under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years and the State parties shall take all feasible measures to prevent such recruitment and use

[4] Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Child on the “Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict”, 2011,Ministry of Women and Child Development(GOI), Under Article 4, point number 15, 16 and 17 http://wcd.nic.in/crc3n4/crc3n4_2r.pdf

-Asian Centre for Human Rights, India’s Child Soldiers, March 2013

-Murthy Vijay and Sharma Vishal, “Jharkhand: 2 abducted kids flee Maoists, return home”, Hindustan Times, September 2013

-Murthy Vijay, “Children of Gods: tactics using minors easy option for reds”, Hindustan Times, September 2013

-Singh Pratibha, “Naxal Target Schools”, CLAWS, March 2013

-Choudhary Randip, “No Child Soldiers says India. Truth says otherwise”, Tehelka.com, May 2013

-Krishnan Murali, “India pressed to address child soldier issue”, Deutsche Welle, May 2013

Picture Credit: Venkataramesh Kommoju

 

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