A view from Monday

Pictures of children participating in the ongoing 17th national convention of the student wing of the CPN-Maoist in large numbers in Kathmandu show that the rebels continue to use children for their political ends. It has been alleged that the All Nepal National Free Students Union (Revolutionary) forced schools around Kathmandu to send thousands of students to attend their rally on Monday. Indeed, it is wrong to force children to attend such rallies without the permission of their parents, as it puts them at uncalled-for risk and violates their rights, making them a reluctant party to any partisan group at a time when they are yet to understand politics and develop a sense of what is right and what is wrong. A report says that most of the children were forced to attend Monday’s inaugural ceremony at Tundikhel following a circular issued by the Maoist union to schools, demanding the participation of at least 50 students from each school.

Some of the human rights agencies, such as the National Human Rights Commission and National Campaign for Children as a Zone of Peace, have issued stern statements protesting the use of children by the Maoists. Indeed, this is against the UN Convention on the Rights of Child to use children in protests. Maoist students may argue that it is natural for these children, who are also students, to participate in a ‘festival of students’. But children are children, and such arguments are not acceptable. However, grown-up students may become members of any student organisation, take part in protests and other activities of their own volition. The Maoists have also been widely accused of using child soldiers but they have been denying the charges. On Friday, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNESCO rightly expressed concern over the practice of encouraging street urchins and kids without family support to take part in rallies by offering them food or money because it puts them at risk.

This Maoist use of children should be roundly condemned. There should be a blanket ban on the use of children by any group in contravention of international conventions and domestic laws. It would be even better if the domestic law set a minimum age for membership of student organisations. Unfortunately, the student unions of all political parties have made it a practice to recruit members from schools, too. In the anti-regression protests or processions in the recent past also, children were used. On various national day occasions, children are paraded without the permission of their parents. While the organisers of such rallies are guilty, the school owners who send children, even in lower grades, to attend such rallies, often in an attempt to curry favour with the powerful, cannot escape their share of responsibility. The government and all political parties, including the CPN-Maoist, should develop a consensus on eschewing the use of children for their partisan agendas and it must be backed up with additional legislation.