Nepal: NGOs concerned at lack of action to release child soldiers

Local child protection agencies in Nepal are concerned over the lack of action to trace and release child soldiers in the country, children's rights activists told IRIN on Monday.

"We are very frustrated over the lack of any action to find the child soldiers, who are in dire need of rehabilitation," activist Sanjaya Aryal, a member of the Children Associated with Armed Forces and Groups (CAAFAG) task force, told IRIN in the capital, Kathmandu.

CAAFAG comprises over 14 local and international child agencies advocating the release and rehabilitation of child soldiers.

Aryal said there was substantial evidence of child soldiers still being sheltered inside various Maoist cantonment sites all around the country but rights groups face difficulty getting information about these children.

Agreement breached

Following the signing of a historic peace accord in November 2006 between the Maoist rebels and Nepalese government, the decade-long armed conflict came to an end and one of the key agreements in the peace process was to release child soldiers from the Maoists' army and militia groups.

But child rights defenders say that most of those children categorised as CAAFAG have not been released by the Maoists.

The Maoist leaders, however, denied there were any child soldiers among their units.

Activists are now pinning their last hopes on the second phase of arms registration, supervised by the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), which they hope will confirm CAAFAG's charges by next month.

No free access to Maoist areas

The crucial problem for the activists is a lack of data due to the Maoists' unwillingness to allow them free access to their cantonments, children's rights activists say.

"The second phase of arms registration is the key to finding the child soldiers, and releasing and protecting them," Durga Khadka, chief of the Child Protection Unit of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), told IRIN.

Khadka said her organisation found a large number of child soldiers during their monitoring mission in December in nearly five Maoist cantonments. The population of child soldiers may have barely reduced, given that they are still being used in several Maoist activities, she added.

Maoist youth wing

Now another major concern is that child soldiers are being used in the political activities of the Maoists especially following the formation of their Young Communist League (YCL), a recently formed Maoist youth wing, in which many members are said to be under 18, including former child soldiers, according to local child rights protection NGOs.

"If these children are not released by the Maoists, they could never get the chance of ever starting their lives as children but end up being misused by political parties," said Tarak Dhital, an activist from Child Workers in Nepal, a local NGO working on the protection of children.

Dhital added that with the approach of the national elections for the Constituent Assembly (CA) in the country they could be used for political campaigns and might never be rehabilitated and reintegrated.

"We will not stop our campaigns until these children are found, rehabilitated and sent back to their families," added Dhital, who is also member of the CAAFAG task force.