Going on nine years, this conflict is degenerating into a competition between the two warring sides to be nastier than the other in tormenting non-combatants. This year they beat their own national record on disappearances, extra-judicial killings and torture. They now seem hell bent on breaking world records.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the blatant use of children in Nepal's armed conflict. The party that has been most insistent on calling for United Nations mediation is the one that is recruiting children directly from their classrooms, forcing them to join militia training, closing schools down with threats, and menacing teachers. As a result, the country's education system is now in shambles, the remarkable progress made in the past decade in raising the country's literacy rate is seriously jeopardised.
Even in conflicts more vicious than ours, we have see an unspoken agreement between belligerents not to target children and schools. But in Nepal there has been a cynical and deliberate attempt to wreck the school system. Day care centres are bombed, children are used as cannon fodder and education turned into a theatre of war.
As we have seen in Africa, conflicts reach a virulent, irreparable phase when children are taught to kill. As our report from Rolpa in this issue (p 4-5) makes it clear: parts of Nepal are now in this phase. Forcing children into war is the worst form of exploitation. The Geneva Conventions and the Convention on the Rights of the Child make the recruitment of anyone under 15 a war crime. The Option Protocol, to which Nepal is a signatory, has raised that age threshold to 18.
The Maoists may say they are not the government, but non-state parties are also bound by the conventions and the leaders of armed groups can be brought to justice and tried for war crimes in future. The Maoist's disingenuous argument that they don't force the children to join them, "they come voluntarily" is unacceptable. The Conventions prohibit recruitment: whether it is forced or voluntary.
If the warring sides in this conflict can't stop this senseless bloodletting, the least they can do is fight by the rules. The use of children in war, their removal from classrooms to work as porters, sentries, spies, cooks or fighters is not allowed. Turning schools into barracks, as state security is doing in some places, is wrong.
Luckily, children are much more resilient than we adults think. With an ultimate homecoming to a peaceful Nepal, they can grow again. But what kind of Nepal are we leaving behind for them?