Nepal: Maoists using children in general strike
|Publisher||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)|
|Publication Date||7 May 2010|
|Cite as||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Nepal: Maoists using children in general strike, 7 May 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4be90b6314.html [accessed 22 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
KATHMANDU, 7 May 2010 (IRIN) - Child rights activists have urged the Maoists of Nepal to stop endangering children by using them for political purposes, including the current general strike crippling the country.
Since 1 May, the opposition Maoists' Communist Party of Nepal has been holding an indefinite general strike, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal. They have brought tens of thousands of villagers - including minors - from their homes to the capital and major cities for the demonstrations.
"Children have been very active in the protests, and we are quite concerned about their security and health," Tarak Dhital, spokesperson of the country's largest child rights organization, Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN), told IRIN.
Wearing red head bands and carrying sticks to warn city residents to adhere to the strike, children have been patrolling from morning until evening in several cities, according to CWIN.
There have been no safety measures for the children, in the event that there is a violent encounter with security forces, while many complain that they feel ill and weak, the NGO found.
"We strongly urge Maoist leaders to consider the vulnerabilities of the children and take responsible action by returning them to their homes," said Dhital.
Maoist leaders deny the allegations and say children have not been involved.
"The children simply followed their parents but are not directly participating in any of our activities," senior Maoist leader Lila Mani Pokhrel said during a meeting with human rights defenders in Nepalgunj, 500km southwest of Kathmandu.
Pokhrel is in charge of Maoist activities in the west - Nepal's most impoverished and food insecure region, where people survive on less than US$1 a day.
Activists at the meeting told IRIN that this is not the first time that Maoists have denied children's involvement in their political activities.
During the decade-long armed conflict, which officially ended in November 2006, the Maoists denied using children in their armed activities, but during the demobilization process, more than 3,000 child soldiers were released earlier this year under the supervision of the UN Mission to Nepal.
"The children have political rights, but how they exercise these rights should be carefully guided and nurtured. Involving them in street demonstrations is totally unsafe for the children," said Bhola Mahat, regional coordinator of the Nepalgunj-based human rights group, Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC).
According to INSEC, at least 15,000 villagers came to Nepalgunj, and many are staying in cramped conditions - in hotel hallways and school buildings - with no proper food to eat.
"The children remain vulnerable. They are not able to go to school, and most are getting sick and suffering from health problems," Mahat said.
Mahat is primarily worried about the children who are marching with their parents in Nepalgunj, where afternoon temperatures climb to 45 degrees Celsius.
"If this strike continues indefinitely, and children are not returned home, we will have a major disaster at hand. The Maoists have to act now in ensuring their safe return," added Mahat.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said Nepalese children are frequently used in political activities and protests, without their consent.
"They are often coerced or encouraged to play a lead role, sometimes even a violent role," said Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF representative in Nepal.
Mellsop urged political parties not to force children, or entice them with goods or money, to take part in political gatherings or demonstrations.