Nepali Times
'Leave us in peace'


Children bear the brunt of war, but they don't even figure in peace talks. Worried about the neglect shown by the government and the Maoists to the plight of children in conflict, more than 24 child rights groups in Nepal have united for their protection and welfare.

Children as Zones of Peace National Coalition will lobby to restore Nepali children their basic rights, and work on immediate rescue, relief, protection and rehabilitation of children most affected. Groups such as CARE Nepal, Save the Children, UNICEF, Maiti Nepal, INSEC, HURON, CWIN, PLAN Nepal are part of the coalition. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the National Human Rights Commission are included as observers.

"We will lobby with the government and the Maoist leaders to sign an accord and incorporate child protection into the code of conduct. We want a joint statement that guarantees our children will be kept out of conflict," Gauri Pradhan of Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN), told us.

Of the 226 children killed in the conflict since 1996, more than half were under 15. According to the rights group, INSEC, the Maoists were responsible for 75 killed while security forces killed 151. In the third round of peace talks in Nepalganj this week, neither side thought it important to regret, apologise or even mention this fact.

"It is really distressing that children figure nowhere in the peace talks. How much more suffering do Nepali children have to undergo before the government and the Maoists acknowledge their plight?" asks Sharad Sharma of the group, Child Development Society. Children have been forcibly recruited, abducted, arrested or displaced. Many hundreds have been orphaned.

"The Coalition . will have a common platform to keep children's issues and their rights at the centre of the debate and attention as peace is being discussed, as some hostilities continue and as a Human Rights Accord is being discussed," says Suomi Sakai, UNICEF representative in Nepal.

Children are regarded with the same suspicion as adults, and have been tortured or killed. The Maoists have executed children on suspicion of being informants, while the state has tortured children during interrogations or killed them, suspected them of being rebels.

In 2002, the Maoists beheaded 14-year-old Raju Tharu in Bhimapur in Bardia. They left a note on his body warning other 'spies' would meet the same fate. In the village of Guthu in Surkhet, 14-year-old Prem Jainsi was shot dead by the army in his classroom. No one knows why. Even after the January ceasefire, 14 children have been killed: three by the army, four by the Maoists and five from booby traps or abandoned ammunition.

Anita Thapa is a 15-year-old school girl in Rukum, and is psychologically traumatised by fear of a return to war. "I'm scared that the Maoists might attack us if the peace talks fail," Anita told us recently.

The psychological pressure of trying to live in a war zone is beginning to tell on many children, welfare groups say. The army has turned some schools into barracks and children are forced to attend classes in an environment bristling with guns and barbed wire.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)