Academic journal article Refuge

Navigating Civil War through Youth Migration, Education, and Family Separation

Academic journal article Refuge

Navigating Civil War through Youth Migration, Education, and Family Separation

Article excerpt


It was so peaceful lying in the fields for hours and stare at the hills and trees around me while the goats ate. Things changed a lot once the Maoists came. My parents were in constant fear that they would take me, so they sent me to Kathmandu to study and be safe.

--Wangdak, age seventeen, Lower Mustang (2)

This article explores the antecedents of migration, education, and family separation in the context of civil war in Nepal from 1996 to 2006 and beyond. Maoist insurgents promised positive political and economic change to many rural Himalayan families during the "People's War," (3) but also aimed to recruit their children into the rebel movement to fight for this change. (4) While relative poverty was also a reality for many of the households that sent children to Kathmandu, it was not the sole driver of the rural-urban migration to the capital city. Decisions to migrate were made within rural political environments (5) that relied on Maoist indoctrination in educational settings. (6) Protection from recruitment was a factor, but scarce economic and educational opportunities for youth also prevailed. (7)

The article documents stories told by relocated youth, and in so doing, extends children-centred scholarship, complementing rich and extensive research on youth in relation to the war, poverty, and distorted development of the rural trans-Himalayan hinterland, far from the Kathmandu Valley and capital city. We avoid the term displacement in this article, despite our analysis of migration as related to war, precisely because it seldom accounts for the highly intentional acts taken by families in the trans-Himalayan region to relocate one or more family members, albeit in restricted contexts of warfare and abduction.

After outlining the terminology and methodology for the article, the second section briefly reviews the extensive scholarship on conditions in the trans-Himalayan region that shaped decisions for people living there, including the conditions of civil war from 1996 to 2006, and beyond. The article also engages with the children's geographies literature and scholarship about youth in contexts of forced migration to foreground the narratives of youth interviewed for the study. Our aim is to provide a more "youth-full" account of the initial migration to Kathmandu and return to their villages after years of absence. By capturing the voices and knowledge of youth who moved to the capital, ostensibly for education, a more nuanced and inclusive knowledge can be generated. (8) The body of scholarship foregrounding youth experiences and accounts of conflict, displacement, and refugee studies is relatively small, though more scholars are taking up this task. (9)

The choice of concepts is methodologically significant. We choose to use "youth" in the study, which is not a homogenized category, but one that is conceptualized and constructed differently across time, space, and societies, across the disparities of Global South and Global North, and within a country, like Nepal. To elaborate, "teenager" was a category created in the West in the 1950s, and later imported into Nepal through globalizing forces such as the spread of magazines and media. Some adults in Nepal consider "teenager" as a legitimate category, whereas some, predominantly from villages in the Himalayas, do not recognize a transitioning stage between childhood and adulthood. (10)

Shanu, drawing from the work of Liechty, (11) acknowledges how media outlets such as teen magazines are geared towards youth interests and build a linkage between consumers and producers at global and local scales; this further reinforces the ways in which Global North discourses dominate the construction of childhood in Nepal. (12) Hart makes a similar critique of "adolescence," acknowledging its Western roots as an "artefact of modernity," and yet he still chooses this as the best term for his edited book, Years of Conflict: Adolescence, Political Violence, and Displacement. …

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