Since the 1970s a number of international conventions have come into effect that try to limit the participation of children in armed conflicts, nevertheless the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers reports that the use of children in military forces, and the active participation of children in armed conflicts is widespread India as a nation is facing a new problem concerning its children- emergence of children as soldiers in strife -torn states of Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland and Assam.
They are getting drawn into fighting both with rebel groups as well as security forces. What was considered a problem in African countries of Sudan, Sierra Leone and other countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal has become a reality for India too. No information was available on how many under-18s were serving in the armed forces. There were allegations that children were recruited by government-supported anti-Maoist village defence forces. Armed groups, including Maoists and groups in Jammu and Kashmir and in the north-east, were reported to be using children.
Children accused of membership of armed groups were detained in conflict areas. According to SP Gajbhiye of Malkangiri, India, the child soldiers perform several tasks ranging from actual combat to the laying of mines and explosives, tracking combing operations and spying. They also serve as couriers for the Maoist groups. Sources said Maoists are especially targeting children from poor families by promising them a future to live in dignity. Young girls too join such groups to escape being forced into early marriages and other kinds of exploitation.
Violence by Maoists increased dramatically in 2005 in a number of states. The violence affected at least ten states, with the worst violence taking place in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Armed conflicts also continued in several north-eastern states (Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura) and in Jammu and Kashmir. A decade-long ceasefire between the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN (Isaac-Muivah, I-M)) and the Indian government continued, but sporadic clashes took place and factional fighting between the NSCN(I-M) and the NSCN (Khaplang) claimed many lives, including those of children.
A temporary ceasefire between the central government of India and the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) in 2006 failed to reduce violence, in which civilians continued to be targeted. Government: * National recruitment legislation and practice The minimum age for recruitment into the armed forces was raised from 16 to 17 years 6 months in mid-2004, although legislation governing the armed forces did not stipulate a minimum recruitment age.
However, India’s November 2005 declaration on ratifying the Optional Protocol did not reflect the rise in minimum age, stating that the minimum age of recruitment was 16. The declaration did, however, contain a clear statement reiterating the government’s position that after enrolment and a requisite training period, personnel were sent to operational areas only after reaching the age of 18. Recruitment for the Territorial Army (reserve) was from 18, as was recruitment for various auxiliary forces including the Central Reserve Police Force, the Border Security Forces and the Assam Rifles. Military training and military schools A number of military schools and institutions, including the Rashtriya Indian Military College (RIMC), provided preliminary training for students wishing to go on to join the army. The RIMC enrolled students between the ages of 11 yrs 6 months to 13yrs, and encouraged only those wishing to have a career in the defence forces to apply. The National Cadet Corps recruited school and college students from the age of 13yrs to take part in military and other training on a voluntary basis.
Although not obliged to sign up for military service, cadets who succeeded in passing exams were given concessions when applying to the army, navy or air force as well as auxiliary forces. Cadets were involved in relief operations in southern India following the 2004 Asian tsunami. * Child recruitment and deployment The lack of systematic birth registration, particularly in rural areas, made it difficult to verify ages, making it impossible to rule out the possibility that under-18s might participate actively in hostilities.
There were active recruitment drives targeting youths”, particularly in the Kashmir valley. * Detention of children There was evidence that in areas of armed conflict children accused of being members of armed groups were detained, often in violation of national legislation designed to protect children in conflict with the law. In Manipur it was alleged that the system established under the Juvenile Justice Act 2000 was non-functioning due to inadequate resources; in particular no juvenile home had been established.
As a result, security forces (including police) who detained children in anti-insurgency operations were reportedly claiming that they were over 18 when registering cases against them and sending them to adult detention centres. Human rights organizations attempting to address individual cases of detained children on behalf of parents were hampered by the absence of birth certificates to prove age. The Kashmir Bar Association, visiting the District Jail, Kathua, in November 2006, found four boys aged between 16 and 18 who had been detained under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act 1978 without their cases being heard.
There were also reports of children being arrested and detained for long periods by police in Chhattisgarh. In one reported incident in November 2005 police shot at a group of young people who had been abducted by Maoists, injuring two young girls who were subsequently detained in Jagdalpur hospital and then Jagdalpur Central Jail, and killing three boys whose bodies were later disposed of by the police (it was not clear if the young people were under 18).
The National Commission for Women (NCW – a statutory body mandated to protect and promote the rights of women), visiting Jagdalpur Central Jail in December 2006, also reported seeing young girls (possibly between the ages of 17yrs to 20yrs) who had been in detention for over a year, accused of being Maoist activists. Armed groups * State-backed village defence forces In March 2006 a human rights organization visited Dantewada district, Chhattisgarh, and found evidence of children, including nine girls aged between 14yrs and 16yrs, being recruited as SPOs.
The girls said that they were being given training in fighting tactics, including how to use guns, as well as being used as informers. The central government Home Ministry reportedly subsequently issued directions that persons below 18 years old were not to be recruited. However, in December 2006 members of the NCW visited Salwa Judum camps in Dantewada district and reported that tribal girls and boys had been recruited as SPOs and were being used as combatants in the Salwa Judum campaign against the Maoists.
There was no official response to the NCW’s allegations and its recommendation that such recruitment should stop. * Maoists There was a reported increase in the recruitment of children by Maoists since 2005. Sources in the Communist Party of India (CPI) (Maoist) and in the Andhra Pradesh police were reported to have stated that children as young as 14yrs or 15yrs were being recruited into armed squads in Andhra Pradesh. Maoists claimed that its children’s division, the Bal Mandal, was not used in hostilities but that children were used only as messengers and informers.
However, they admitted that they were provided with military training to prepare them for any situation. Recruitment of under-18s by Maoists was also reported to have increased in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Some children were reportedly taken from school without their parents’ consent. Almost all those under-18s recruited by Maoists were reported to be illiterate and from tribal communities. Jammu and Kashmir There was evidence that armed groups in Jammu and Kashmir, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and in Pakistan were actively recruiting children.
The Jammu and Kashmir police claimed that around 200 children had been reported missing in the state since 2004, alleging that most of these were children of poor and illiterate families who had been recruited by militants, although this could not be independently confirmed. Some were said to be as young as 13yrs or 14yrs and using sophisticated weapons. In August 2004 the Indian Army claimed to have caught nine children who were armed. The army claimed that some of them were from Pakistan and had been trained by Pakistan-based armed groups including the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen as well as the Hizbul Mujahideen.
Children in Jammu and Kashmir were said to be being indoctrinated and recruited from schools and mosques. Lack of education and employment opportunities for young people were said to be major factors in the recruitment of children by armed groups. 2 Children as young as ten were said to be used by armed groups as messengers and couriers and provided with basic training in the use of weapons. Some children were reported to have been used by armed groups to throw grenades and plant improvised explosive devices. The use of children by armed groups put them at increased risk from the security forces.
During 2005 and 2006 there were two major incidents in which security forces opened fire on children. In Bangergund in Kupwara district soldiers of the Rashtriya Rifles waiting to ambush militants claimed to have mistakenly shot dead three boys and critically injured a fourth on the night of 23 July 2005. The army said that the boys had acted suspiciously by failing to stop when challenged. In Doodipora, Handwara, on 22 February 2006 soldiers shot at a group of children playing cricket, claiming that militants were among them, killing four boys including an eight-year-old. North-east Much of the evidence of the involvement of children in the various conflicts in north-eastern states was anecdotal and generalized, with a lack of primary field-based research on the issue. In May 2007, it was reported that ULFA used teenagers to ferry explosives and throw grenades, although they did not openly recruit child soldiers. The report further claimed that other armed groups operating in the north-east, including the NSCN , the United Liberation Front (Manipur) and the People’s Liberation Army (Manipur) openly recruited children.
The report claimed that the smallest boys, as the most fearless”, were placed closest to the enemy. In Manipur, a culture of violence as a result of decades of conflict was said to be fuelling the desire of children to handle weapons and join armed groups, many of which were organized along ethnic lines. Some of the more recently formed ethnically based groups were reported to be commonly recruiting children. Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR): There were no official government programs specifically targeted at the rehabilitation of former child soldiers.
Human rights organizations working in areas of armed conflict confirmed that there were few effective policies or facilities in place to reintegrate former militants, particularly children, into the mainstream. A draft Integrated Child Protection Scheme was under consideration by the government. The draft document acknowledged the inadequate resources allocated to child protection to date and consequent lack of structural mechanisms to deal with children in need, referring specifically to the lack of intervention for children affected by militancy.
However, the draft did not contain any specific proposals relating to children involved in armed conflict. Developments: A National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights was established at the end of 2006 and a chairperson appointed in February 2007. The Act under which it was established defined child rights” as including the children’s rights adopted in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child,” but did not refer explicitly to the Optional Protocol. It was not known whether the Commission would take up matters relating to the use of child soldiers.