Monday, July 27, 2009

Child soldiers: Nepal - fears for thousands of child soldiers

A recent report said 2,973 minors of the former Maoist army are being discharged (file photo)

A proper rehabilitation programme for thousands of former child soldiers - now young men - is needed in Nepal, say specialists.

“Unless there is a good rehabilitation package, there is less chance of them being released and this should be done soon before they lose their childhood years again,” Tarak Dhital, from Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN), a national NGO, told IRIN.

According to a report released this month by the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) 2,973 minors of the former Maoist army, also known as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), are being discharged.

The boys, aged between 16 and 18, are among 30,000 former Maoist combatants staying in seven cantonment sites around the country since the November 2006 peace agreement was signed.

However, they have yet to receive the rehabilitation and reintegration assistance they need.

The Maoists reportedly recruited thousands of children during their decade-long conflict with the Nepalese state, which resulted in more than 14,000 deaths.

But more than two years since the agreement was reached, the plight of these young men remains unresolved, with many fearing time for their proper reintegration into society is running out.


Since 2006, many of the minors under 18 have since been classified as adults and Dhital is concerned that many of the underage soldiers are losing years waiting for the government to come up with a proper rehabilitation package.

But according to the UN, even if they are now adults, they will still be entitled to rehabilitation services once they are released.

“All disqualified minors are eligible for the reintegration services to be provided by the government. Even those who are no longer minors still have to go through the official discharge and reintegration process and, just like other minors, are entitled to the reintegration services of their choice,” Jacques Boyer, deputy representative of the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF), told IRIN.

UNICEF, UN Development Programme (UNDP), UNMIN and UN Population Fund (UNFPA) have been providing technical assistance to the government to facilitate the boys’ early release, including guidance to the government in maintaining minimum standards during release and reintegration processes, as well as links to organizations involved in vocational training and psycho-social services.

Rehabilitation package

Child rights experts, however, say there is still no clarity as to what kind of rehabilitation package will be introduced or when.

Until now, there has only been a consensus between the Maoist leaders and the government to release the child soldiers, they said.

The Maoists are no longer in government after their leader, Prime Minister Puspa Kamal Dahal quit in May.

According to officials, a high-level team from the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction has visited the cantonment sites where the Maoist combatants are confined to interview the soldiers about their rehabilitation needs.

But while the government intends to release all the former child soldiers within three months, child rights activists and other specialists say more time will be needed.

Only two weeks have passed since the government team went to the cantonments, and it will take another few months to build a complete rehabilitation package, according to Children Associated with Armed Forces and Groups, a coalition of local and international agencies advocating for the release and rehabilitation of child soldiers.

In addition, it might take a long time to reach a consensus between the Maoists and the government on the reintegration services.

UNICEF says it is ready to support their rehabilitation, and that education support should be provided.

“If minors are unable to continue school because of their families’ expectations for them to contribute to family earnings, then the families should be provided with income-generating support so as to allow those minors to continue education,” explained Boyer.

Boyner expressed concern over the delayed release of the minors, as well as linking their release to the overall security-sector reform process.

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN
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