Republic of India

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 1,049.5 million (413.6 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 1.3 million
Compulsory recruitment age: no conscription
Voluntary recruitment age: 16
Voting age: 18
Optional Protocol: not signed
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC

The minimum voluntary recruitment age was 16. The government stated that under-18s were in training for two and a half years and could not be deployed into combat. No information was available on how many under-18s were serving in government armed forces. Armed groups were reported to have recruited children in Jammu and Kashmir and in localized conflicts in several other states.


Religious minorities, particularly the Muslim community, were increasingly targeted for abuse. In the state of Gujarat, nationalist groups killed large numbers of Muslims in 2002, allegedly with the connivance of state agencies. The state authorities failed to ensure that those responsible for the violence were brought to justice. The Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), passed by parliament on 26 March 2002, gave police wide powers of arrest and allowed suspects to be detained without charge or trial for up to six months. It was used to detain political opponents and members of minority populations.1

Armed conflict continued in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, and in the northeastern states of Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura.2 Human rights activists continued to face accusations of "anti-national" activities, and were harassed, threatened and held under preventive detention orders. International human rights monitors, including UN independent experts and human rights organizations, were in practice denied access to areas of armed conflict and granted only limited access to the rest of the country.3

Pakistan declared a ceasefire in Kashmir in November 2003, India doing the same shortly afterwards, and peace talks on the armed conflict in Jammu and Kashmir began in February 2004.4


National recruitment legislation and practice

The 1950 constitution says that "It shall be the duty of every citizen of India ... to defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so" (Article 51A).5 According to the 1972 National Service Act, certain people may be called to perform national service but no minimum age is specified. However, there is currently no conscription in India.6

Recruitment into the armed forces is regulated by the Air Force Act, No. 45 of 1950, the Army Act, No. 46 of 1950, and the Navy Act, No. 62 of 1957. None of these acts stipulates a minimum voluntary recruitment age but India told the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2003 that "Persons who are recruited at the age of 16 undergo basic military training for up to two and a half years from the date of enrolment and are then inducted into regular service".7 India had previously reported to the committee that "children are not inducted into the armed forces and hence do not take a direct part in hostilities".8

During the 1998 session of the UN Working Group negotiating the Optional Protocol, an Indian government representative stated that discussion continued within the government on the possibility of raising the age limit for voluntary recruitment from 16.9 However, there had reportedly been no change to the minimum recruitment age by March 2004.

Military training and military schools

A number of military schools and institutions provide preliminary training for students wishing to go on to join the army. The Rashtriya Indian Military College takes students between the ages of 11½ and 13 years. All students of schools and colleges may join the National Cadets Corps on a voluntary basis.10 Cadets receive intensive practical and theoretical military training at camps throughout the academic year. They are reportedly not liable for active military service.11 However, they have been deployed in the past, for example when cadets aged between 18 and 22 guarded "non-sensitive" polling booths during elections in 1999. In January 2000 the Ministry of Defence proposed the use of trained cadets in non-combat roles during national emergencies.12

Child recruitment and deployment

It was not possible to verify the number of under-18s serving in the armed forces. There were no reports of under-18s participating in active combat in military forces.

The government carried out active recruitment drives that targeted youths, particularly from indigenous communities.13 Lack of systematic birth registration in some rural areas made it difficult to verify age, and the possibility of under-18s being recruited could not be ruled out.14

Armed local Village Defence Committees were established by the armed forces in 1999 in Doda, Udhampur and the border districts of Jammu and Kashmir, comprising primarily members of the Hindu community, to assist in anti-insurgency operations.15 In 2002 a government representative denied the existence of a policy to encourage young boys to become members of the Village Defence Committees, but acknowledged that young boys may have taken up arms to defend themselves from attack in some instances.16

Detention of children

There were a few reports of children being arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) for suspected involvement with armed groups. In Jharkhand state a 13-year-old boy was arrested in February 2003 because his father was suspected of involvement with the Maoist Communist Centre group. Charges against him were later withdrawn.17 A further 200 people were arrested later in the same month, among them a 12-year-old boy. By March 2003, a total of ten children, mostly students, had been arrested under POTA in Jharkhand alone.

Armed political groups

Scores of armed groups were operating. Over a hundred armed groups were reportedly active in the northeastern region alone, according to one estimate.18 Information on the recruitment and use of children by the groups was difficult to obtain. Local sources suggest that children are frequently recruited between the ages of 13 and 15. Inter-tribal conflicts increase recruitment pressures, but many groups reportedly train under-18s then send them back to their communities for education. Children who do not want to return to their communities remain with the groups.19 Male youths aged between 15 and 18 reportedly joined a variety of armed groups in northeastern states primarily to escape poverty and provide for their families. According to some accounts they received weapons and training although it was unclear whether they engaged in combat.20

Andhra Pradesh

Continued recruitment of children by the Maoist-communist People's War Group (PWG) in the state of Andhra Pradesh was reported in June 2002.21 In late December 2002 a leading member of the PWG was reported as saying that the group would recruit and train 3,000 children by May 2003.22 The same source said that children joined voluntarily as a way out of poverty and, in the case of girls, freedom from exploitation. He stated they start off as sympathizers, turn into informants and may eventually join the ranks. PWG recruitment intensified during 2002 and 2003, and reportedly targeted children from government-run welfare hostels. In early 2003 the police accused the PWG of abducting girls under 18 and forcing them to join their ranks.23

Families in and around the Tanda and Bagh rivers bordering Gondhia and Balaghat were reportedly sending young girls away from the villages because of pressure from left-wing armed groups to join another Maoist-communist movement, the Jan Chhapamar Sena (PGA).24


The National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) reportedly issued instructions for female students to join the group and take part in the struggle in 2002.25 Women members of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), who were captured by the armed forces of neighbouring Bhutan and handed over to the Indian authorities in December 2003, reported that children had to walk through vast tracts of forest in severe conditions while the top leaders led lives of luxury. They complained of "very poor conditions" in the camps "with no woollens or electricity".26

Jammu and Kashmir

Armed groups continued to be active, some favouring accession to Pakistan, others advocating independence for a reunified Kashmir. Indian defence sources were quoted as saying that half the members of armed groups in Kashmir were aged between 14 and 18, although this information was impossible to verify independently.27 The police in the region said that around a hundred cases of child abduction by armed groups were reported in 2002 and nearly 400 by mid-2003, and that hundreds of children were trained by Pakistan-based armed groups in the Kashmir valley.28

One group, the Lashkar-e-Taiba , said that recruits needed parental consent to join.29 Other sources, however, reported that most were forcibly recruited.30 On 3 August 2003 a Lashkar-e-Taiba group reportedly kidnapped two boys at gunpoint, a 13 year old from Doda and a 17 year old from Suranga. Residents of the two villages were allegedly told to contribute one recruit each or face reprisals. After the parents complained to the Doda police, the boys were rescued a week later from a mountain hideout. Later that month the Doda police said that they had broken up a major recruitment ring run by Lashkar-e-Taiba commanders. In September 2003 villagers from hamlets around the mountain town of Gool reported the abduction of five children by unidentified men.31

After joining the groups, the children reportedly received rudimentary arms training, but worked as cooks, cleaners, porters and guides, and were not deployed in active combat. Some are sent to Pakistan for further training, while others may be dispatched to set up safe houses and infrastructure for the groups.32


Separatist armed groups, mainly from the Naga and Kuki communities, have been fighting state security forces or each other in Manipur since the beginning of the 1990s. In July 2002 a representative of the Revolutionary People's Front-Manipur (RPF-Manipur) said that the group had a policy of recruitment based on mental and physical maturity, but that recruits must be at least 16 years of age and must volunteer. The representative said that in practice, the youngest person ever trained was 17, and that RPF-Manipur upholds UN Resolutions and Protocols.33 No further information was available on recruitment practices.

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR)

There were no official government programs to assist the reintegration of former child soldiers or war-affected children. Little was available for victims of the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, although the army provided some financial assistance and in 2003 launched an education program for war-affected children.34 The children included those who surrendered to or were captured by the armed forces. However, fear of reprisals by armed groups prevented some children from returning to their communities.35

In November 2001 the police in Assam launched a UNICEF-backed program, Aashwas (Reassurance), to provide some psychological aid and counselling to children who had lost family members in conflict-related violence. However, in 2002 the problem of children traumatized by armed conflict in Assam was reported to be acute because of the lack of awareness of the condition and unavailability of psychiatric counselling.36

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed serious concern over the plight of children involved in the armed conflicts in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast of the country. It urged the government to ensure respect for human rights and humanitarian law aimed at the protection, care, physical and psychological rehabilitation of children affected by armed conflict.37 On 9 February 2004 the government adopted a National Charter for Children, which states that "The State shall in partnership with the community take up steps to draw up plans for the identification, care, protection, counselling and rehabilitation of child victims and ensure that they are able to recover, physically, socially and psychologically, and re-integrate into society".38

* see glossary for information about internet sources

1 Amnesty International Reports 2003 and 2004,

2 International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Armed Conflict Database (subscribers only).

3 Amnesty International Reports 2003 and 2004.

4 BBC News, "Timeline: India",

5 Constitution of India, at Ministry of Law and Justice (Legislative Department),

6 Statement by India to UN Working Group on the Optional Protocol, UN Doc. E/CN.4/1998/102, January 1998,

7 Second periodic report of India to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/93/Add.5, 16 July 2003,

8 Initial report of India to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/28/Add.10, 7 July 1997; Indian Army, (Careers, Other ranks).

9 Statement by India to UN Working Group, op. cit.

10 Indian Army, op. cit.

11 Bharat Rakshak (Consortium of Indian military websites), "Recruitment Information for Non-Resident Indians", http://www.bharat-rakshak. com/recruitment.

12 S. Sharma, "1,700 NCC cadets to lend colour to polls", Times of India, 1 September 1999,; Confidential sources, India, July 2002.

13 Confidential sources, July 2002.

14 Rädda Barnen (Save the Children – Sweden),

15 Human Rights Watch (HRW), Behind the Kashmir conflict: Abuses by Indian security forces and militant groups continue,; S. Bukhari, "Militants kill 19 in Jammu", The Hindu, 21 July 1999,

16 Child Soldiers Coalition, Asia-Pacific Conference on the use of children as soldiers, Kathmandu, May 2000.

17 HRW, Country Studies: The human rights impact of counter-terrorism measures in ten countries, March 2003.

18 "Armed Groups Operating in the North Eastern Region", July 2002, South Asia Terrorism Portal, (India, Terrorist groups).

19 Confidential source, India, July 2002.

20 Confidential source, India, July 2004.

21 Sanjay K. Jha, Institute for Conflict Management, "Andhra Pradesh: A false peace and more violence", South Asia Intelligence Review, No. 1.3, 5 August 2002, at

22 P.V. Ramana, Child combatants in the People's War Group, Article no. 1048, 2 June 2003, Observer Research Foundation,

23 The Hindu, "PW abducting innocent girls, says DGP", 16 March 2003.

24 Sanjay K. Jah, op. cit.

25 The Sentinel, "Scared girls join NDFB", 9 June 2002.

26 S. Bhattacharya, "ULFA women cadres flay top leaders' lifestyle", The Tribune Online, 21 December 2003.

27 L. Puri, "Concern over child militants in J&K", The Hindu, 8 February 2003.

28 Praveen Swami, "Jehad's child warriors", Frontline, Volume 20, Issue 20, 27 September 2003,

29 Lashkar-e-Taiba ,

30 S. Ramachandran, "Child soldiers: Easy to train, willing to kill", Asia Times Online, 19 December 2003,

31 Praveen Swami, op. cit.

32 Praveen Swami, op. cit.

33 Communication from RPF-Manipur, 10 July 2002.

34 Y. Rana, "Army sponsors J&K children's education", Times News Network, 17 September 2003,

35 Praveen Swami, op. cit.

36 Reuters, "Child trauma hits strife torn Assam", 6 May 2002.

37 UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding observations: India, UN Doc. CRC/C/15/Add.228, 30 January 2004.

38 Ministry of Human Resources Development, National Charter for Children 2003, No.F.615/98-CW, 9 February 2004, http://wcd.nic. in/nationalcharter2003.doc.


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.