9 Aug 2006 (IRIN)
Rights groups are concerned that the government and Maoists have failed to address the demobilisation, disarming and reintegration (DDR) of hundreds of child soldiers during Nepal's peace process.
The use of child soldiers - some kidnapped from their villages - during the decade-long conflict has been widely documented but there are few detailed figures. Watchlist, a New York-based NGO that monitors the use of children in armed conflicts, said anecdotal evidence suggested the practice was widespread in Nepal.
QUESTION: Both sides in the peace talks have yet to make any commitment to the removal of child soldiers from their respective armed forces. Is it time to start the DDR process for child soldiers?
ANSWER: Removing children from any type of activities linked to the armed conflict is essential and should not be dependent on any adult DDR process, peace talks, peace agreements or cessation of hostilities. The recruitment and use of any children under 18 is against international child rights principles. It is important that all parties remember to include child rights in any agreements, codes of conduct and programmes linked to the peace process.
However, a national process to separate children from armed groups and return them to their communities has yet to be set up. It should be noted that children playing any kind of role in a military group, whether or not armed, should benefit from such a process.
Q: Can the UN play a role in guiding both sides in the conflict to take on board a child-DDR process?
A: OHCHR is playing a role in advocating for the prevention of the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, for the release of children and for putting in place programmes to support children leaving armed groups.
One of the ways recruitment and use of children can be prevented in the future is including provisions in the constitution banning such recruitment into armed forces and groups, and also introducing legislation which makes it a criminal offence.
In addition, the UN has started discussing with both parties to the conflict the issue of children and armed conflict. The UN country team has set up a task force to report to the [UN] Security Council Working Group established under UN SCR 1612 (2005), to better understand the scope of the violations against children and to generate practical proposals for actions for state and non-state entities.
Q: What else needs to be done?
A: Advocacy efforts are extremely important to continue to raise awareness of this issue. Separating children from armed groups is essential in terms of their protection and allowing them to return to a normal life. This advocacy must not only be directed at the parties to the conflict, but also civil society and the communities to which children will return, in order to facilitate their reintegration.
Q: Maoist leaders often deny using child soldiers, but evidence suggests that they are widely deployed by the rebels. How can we have a child DDR process if the protagonists refuse to come clean on this?
A: Establishing a dialogue with armed parties to a conflict is always the first step towards planning for the withdrawal of children. Contacts at all levels need to be strengthened to ensure a fruitful dialogue and explore the best ways the children can be protected and can safely return to their communities and families.