Precious victims

The World Food Programme (WFP)’s appeal to the Nepal Transport Union to allow free passage of WFP convoys trying to deliver food to hungry people of the remote regions brings to mind a key tenet of freedom — that in a democracy one’s exercise of freedom should not be allowed to trample upon the freedom of other people. Whatever may be the grievances of the transport union members, their actions are depriving the hungry people of their right to live. The week-long disruption of convoys carrying food for over 50,000 drought-hit people in Humla, Jumla and Dolpa districts in Mid- and Far-Western Nepal and over 10,000 Bhutanese refugees means just that. WFP food supplies are aimed at the economically vulnerable people in 31 food-deficit districts. According to WFP, if the disruption continued, over one million people could starve.

While taking any disruptive action, one should be sensitive to the interests of the vulnerable lot, including children. There have been frequent reports of abuse of children in various ways, a practice that gained greater currency during the one-decade-long conflict. Now that the peace agreement has been signed between the SPA and the Maoists, things are looking up. However, UNICEF had to make yet another call on the parties concerned to abide by international instruments and to put uppermost in mind the interests of children during all stages of peace process. Under this comes the return and reintegration of all children associated with armed forces. The UN agency has expressed concern over the fact that children under 18 who are aligned with any armed force or group are yet to have the opportunity of a reunion with their families. The immediate enforcement of this right of children is essential from legal, human rights and humanitarian perspectives.

In this connection, it will be in order to remind the armed forces of the November 8 peace accord, under which the CPN-Maoist has agreed to disarm and be stationed in temporary cantonments, while the Nepali Army is similarly to confine itself to its barracks — both under UN monitoring. So the comprehensive peace agreement that is to be signed soon needs to spell out the details of the process of detaching children from the armed forces or groups and handing them over to child protection agencies. This should apply to all minors who are there through conscription or of their own accord. While there is this imperative need, the alleged start of recruitment of locals, including minors, into Maoist army soon after the historic accord raises concern. If these activities in contravention of the accord are still going on for whatever reasons, the Maoists should stop them, and the state and the civil society should confront the Maoist leadership with evidence. While most things seem to be going in the right direction after the peace accord, the parties concerned should take extra care that nothing that may endanger peace takes place.