THE GRASS IS GREENER IN THE MINEFIELD: These children were photographed recently collecting grass inside a mine or IED field surrounding the Nepal Army's Eastern Divisional Headquarters. The explosives have been laid in the area to the righ, marked with signs saying 'Bomb' in Nepali.
Across Nepal, the barbed wire perimeters of army bases are where the grass grows tallest. Children often sneak in to cut grass for the family livestock, oblivious of the fact that the area is a minefield.
Besides the continued suffering of the relatives of the dead and disappeared and the daily struggle of tens of thousands who were wounded, the other enduring legacy of the war are the explosives left behind. Explosive remnants of war continue to maim and kill long after the wars are over.
Two years after the end of hostilities, the army's landmines and the improvised explosive devices (IED) of the Maoists still lie scattered across the land. Despite the mine-clearing operations and an awareness campaign, people are still dying and being maimed by explosives. Many of them are children.
According to Luhar Danee, Mine Action Consultant at UNICEF, 321 people have fallen prey to victim-activated explosives since the ceasefire in April 2006. 54 of them died.
The three children were about to lift the concertina wire and go into the minefield to cut grass when they spotted the photographer. They seemed to know it was a restricted area.The soldiers on sentry duty in the bunkers above the minefield either did't see the children, or didn't try to stop them.
"More than half the causalities are children who have lost their limbs or lives playing with or tampering with explosive devices that lie scattered in former clash sites," says Danee. "Recently, there has also been an increase in the number of incidents involving women who have entered mined perimeters to cut grass or forage for mushrooms and other forest products."
Despite continued awareness-raising campaigns and mine risk education activities carried out throughout the country, the threat of explosives still loom large mainly for children and women.
"Nepal still ranks quite high amongst countries where children are falling prey to victim-activated explosions," says Danee, who says more needs to be done to spread awareness about explosives and clear them.
Shrinkhala Sharma in Sunsari