Children in War

A lot has been written about children in war, particularly in Africa. How child warriors as young as 8-9 years old are being utilised in conflict zones in a number of African countries, sends shivers down the spines of civil society activists. A generation of children lost their childhood. Instead of going to schools they patrolled in war-torn streets of many African countries with carbines on their shoulders. Now allegations are made against Indian Maoists for recruiting child soldiers in their ranks. Maybe, Maoist insurgency is in a low key for the time being. But in terms of casualties, as per home ministry statistics, 2013 was no less explosive than previous years.

At least 257 civilians, 101 security forces elements and 97 Maoist members were killed in 2013, in 998 violent incidents in India. In the annual report of the UN Secretary General on children and armed conflict, concern has been expressed over the killing and maiming of children, who continue to be recruited and used as human shields, by Maoists in India, and over the threat of sexual violence against girls within Maoist ranks. Recruitment and use of children as young as six years old, by Maoists, continued in 2013. In the absence of disaggregated data on the number of children associated with armed groups, independent estimates indicate at least 2500 children are associated with armed groups in Maoist-influenced areas. Boys and girls aged six to twelve years were recruited into specific children’s units, known as ‘Bal Dasta’ and ‘Bal Sangham’ in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Odisha states. Maoist recruitment campaigns target poor communities. Parents are forced to offer boys and girls to the armed groups, under the threat of violence, including killing and torture. Children are reportedly threatened with the killing of family members, should they escape or surrender to security forces. In the affected areas, attacks on schools have continued to affect children’s access to education. Training is imparted to children for spying and fighting with crude weapons such as sticks. When of 12 years of age, children associated with Maoists are transferred to age specific units, where they are given military training in weapons handling, and the use of explosive devices. Children arrested by security forces, under security legislation are often detained with adults, not tried through the juvenile justice system, and deprived of their rights to due process of law.

During the anti-imperialist liberation war in Vietnam children too participated in civil work conducive to liberation. But they were never used as combatants. It is not known how child warriors in Maoist Guerilla zones are being politically educated but without proper education, formal school education and political education as well, this strategy of ‘catching them young’ may be counter-productive. When they are caught by security forces, they are brutalised. Children without childhood is a global phenomenon because of prevalence of child labour, in South Asia and elsewhere, in hazardous jobs. And in conflict zones they face a gloomy future; they are dying for a cause which do they hardly understand.

Vol. 47, No. 5, Aug 10 - 16, 2014