Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nepal's Children Forced to Fight ; in Rural Areas, Maoist Fighters Are Compelling Families to Send Teens to the Front Lines

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nepal's Children Forced to Fight ; in Rural Areas, Maoist Fighters Are Compelling Families to Send Teens to the Front Lines

Article excerpt

When Maoist forces broke into the house of farmer Pasang Sherpa in eastern Nepal, they were looking for one thing: an able body. They took Mr. Sherpa's 15-year-old son, Pemba.

Pasang was told that Pemba would be sent to the Dolpa district in far-western Nepal, so that he could serve in the "great people's war." But Pemba never made it to Dolpa. Only two months after his abduction last year, he was killed in his home district in a confrontation with the Army.

"He died without even understanding what Maoism means," says a tearful Pasang. "Pemba was a virtuous boy. He used to help me till land," he adds.

Forced recruitment of children has now become widespread in Nepal's remote hills, with the introduction some months ago of what the Maoists call "Whole-timers," or WTs. In rural regions under the rebel thumb, every family must send one member as a WT to aid the rebels' cause. The job often falls to the most dispensable family member - usually a child.

Both the Maoists and the Army have involved children in their bloody nine-year war. The Maoists, who are trying to overthrow the monarchy, control 75 percent of the country's territory - most everything but cities, towns, and district headquarters. They have set up their own courts and systems of taxation and governance. Over 8,000 children have been orphaned and tens of thousands displaced in a conflict that has claimed over 12,000 lives. The Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) has caused two-thirds of the deaths, according to INSEC, a human rights organization.

Fighting between the Army and rebels exploded over the weekend in western Nepal, reports Agence France-Presse. An Army spokesman claimed that more than 60 insurgents may have been killed in clashes that began when rebels attacked an Army checkpoint.

To escape Maoist atrocities, people with means continue to flee Nepal's hills en masse to the kingdom's relatively safer lowlands and cities, and to neighboring India. This has depleted the recruitment pool of adults for Maoists, making them turn to children.

Child rights organizations here say that it is not only the Maoists who abuse children, however. …

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