Abuse of children in Nepal has become a focus of national and international human rights agencies and others. Forceful expression of widespread concern will surely be helpful in discouraging people from abusing children, but that is not enough. Recently, the Maoists were criticised for ferrying schoolchildren to Open Air Theatre to take part in the rally organised by ANNISU-R. Currently, reports hitting the headlines tell of the Maoists forcibly recruiting, in various districts, young people, including minors and schoolchildren, in their People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with promises of a job and a salary. After these stories surfaced, PM Girija Prasad Koirala too urged the Maoists to stop the recruitment. Maoist spoke-sperson Krishna Bahadur Mahara, in a press release, said the CPN-Maoist had no policy of fresh recruitment, nor did it need it now. According to INSEC, a human rights body perceived close to the CPN-UML, the Maoists have taken away some five thousand children for conscription over the past three weeks.

If the Maoists are really conscripting young people, it is hard to pin down their motives because even the Maoist veterans are going to live in temporary cantonments very soon while their arms will be under lock and key fitted with a UN monitoring device. If their objective, as some allege, is to swell their ranks for pecuniary or other benefits, it is difficult to believe that the Maoists have fallen for such a naive tactic. Home minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula said the other day that no recruitment into the PLA after the Nov. 8 accord would be recognised. Maoist chairman Prachanda himself said in New Delhi on Saturday that under the agreement the UN would not count those under 16 as soldiers of the Maoist army. About the young people said to have been conscripted, Prachanda claimed that the CPN-Maoist was merely providing shelter to helpless and needy children, adding that they were admitted to the party organisation, not the PLA.

Whether Prachanda is speaking the truth, or to what extent, can be determined only through a credible enquiry. No doubt, there does not seem to be any sense for the Maoists in relying on conscriptions, as the new recruits will not be recognised based on age or date of induction. Perhaps, they have been taken in as ordinary cadres. Even then, to the extent force has been applied, the process is wrong. Or, are the Maoists pushing the last-minute forcible inductions of cadres before the comprehensive peace agreement is signed, probably today, when things will get more serious legally, politically and otherwise, taking the peace process closer to the promulgation of an interim constitution. To protect the minors against their use for political purposes by parties or against other forms of abuse, adequate legal provisions and their strict enforcement are essential. One case in point is the use of schoolchildren by the student wings of all the political parties who are intensifying membership drives or formation of unions in schools. Schoolchildren are also students, but for lack of an age bar, it is hard to curb their abuse.