Nepal’s hidden tragedy: Children caught in the conflict
Caught in the violence that has plagued the country for over 10 years, Nepal’s children have become the often-overlooked victims of the ongoing strife, their plight exacerbated by poverty and abuse.The Story
With its recent political turmoil, Nepal, a poverty-stricken landlocked country known largely for tourism and mountaineering, has been once again thrust into the media spotlight as banner headlines and television images focus on the dramatic events in the streets of the capital city, Kathmandu. However, as was the case with previous coverage of the struggle between Maoist rebels against government forces, this explosion of interest has shone little light on a lesser-known problem – the plight of the nation’s children.
As a result of the strife, children’s rights are violated and their lives are profoundly disrupted on a daily basis. According to a 2005 report by Child Workers in Nepal, cited by UNICEF, over 40,000 Nepalese children are estimated to have been displaced over the course of the Maoist uprising. Tens of thousands have been abducted for short periods for political indoctrination by the Maoists. Some of these children have then been recruited into the Maoist forces or militia. Education has suffered, particularly due to enforced closures during strikes, which have cut the school year to nearly half in some areas. Teachers have been threatened, assaulted and even killed. Schools in conflict-affected areas have been used for political meetings and enforced indoctrination sessions, have been bombed or attacked, and some have been turned into barracks. There are also reports that mines and other explosive devices have been placed in and around school buildings and playgrounds. In response, UNICEF and its partners have urged all parties in Nepal to ensure that schools and classrooms remain free of weapons and explosives and serve as politically neutral zones, where children will not be subject to indoctrination, abduction, harassment as political suspects, or threatened with detention.
- Nepal today has a shot at ending the 10-year old armed insurgency of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and achieving durable peace. Towards the end of April 2006, after almost three-weeks of a general strike and street protests around the nation against direct royal rule, King Gyanendra gave up executive powers of state, which he had assumed in February 2005, restored the last Parliament and allowed the formation of a government composed of the Parliamentary parties.
- A reciprocal ceasefire, government-Maoist negotiations and the election of a constituent assembly to decide the future form of government will hopefully be the key milestones of an emerging peace process.
- In the last 10 years of the armed Maoist rebellion, some 13,000 civilians have died in the violence in remote regions and rural areas.
- Eighty-six per cent of the population of Nepal lives on less than $2 per day.
- Nepal’s infant mortality rate, although substantially reduced in the last decade, continues to be high – some 59 per 1000 for children under one year of age.
- Half a million children do not attend school at all.
- According to a UN human rights monitoring mission established in Nepal, breaches of international humanitarian law by the Maoists include continued use of children within the People’s Liberation Army, despite denials by the Maoists that they were recruiting children under 18. While children have been arrested and tortured on suspicion of being linked to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), numerous juveniles are currently in detention under anti-terrorist legislation by the state authorities. Meanwhile, there is also evidence of children being used by the Royal Nepalese Army as informants or spies.