Nepal: Schoolchildren still being put at risk, say activists

[KATHMANDU, 28 August 2006] - The presence of military forces at playgrounds and near schools remains a serious concern among child rights activists, who said on Monday that both the armies of the government and rebels had failed to remove the sentry posts and barracks from the areas.

“Appeals from parents and rights workers to remove them had been ignored,” said prominent child rights activist Usha Thapaliya, describing the current situation as “shocking”.

The Nepalese government and Maoist rebels are failing to safeguard children’s rights as part of the country’s peace process, say increasingly frustrated child rights activists.

Gauri Pradhan, a prominent child rights activist, explained that the government and Maoists had to take the lead. “It is high time that both the Maoists and parties as responsible political groups showed seriousness towards creating an environment for security and protection of the children,” Pradhan said in the capital, Kathmandu.

Nepal’s decade-long conflict ended in April when the Maoists and new interim government - formed by the country’s seven main parties after mass protests ended King Gyanendra’s direct rule - agreed a ceasefire.

According to Child Workers in Nepal, a child rights group, some 462 children had been killed and more than 1,000 injured during the conflict.

Children as Zone of Peace (CZOP), a national coalition of more than 100 local NGOs campaigning to protect children from armed conflict, said both sides had agreed the right of children to peace was a key goal but they had demonstrated little commitment to it.

The coalition was particularly concerned by the establishment of Maoist military camps and sentry posts inside school compounds despite protests from parents.

Insec, a human rights organisation, said 36 Maoist soldiers had been seen with weapons at two schools in the Gumi village of Surkhet District, 700 km west of Kathmandu.

CZOP said the Maoists had also built a base camp near the Bhimsen Primary School in Debinagar, a village in the Palpa District, 350 km southwest of the capital.

Sanjaya Aryal, coordinator of CZOP, said that they would be “strongly” talking to the government and Maoists about the issues. The government had also been too slow to remove its soldiers and police from schools used as defensive bases against rebel attacks. “The armed militia of the Maoists has been stationed inside the schools. There are even child soldiers standing guard at the sentry posts,” Thapaliya said.

Rights groups remain concerned that children are still being abducted by the Maoists to work for them.

Insec said five children had been missing for more than a week after being abducted from their village in Kaski District, 200 km west of Kathmandu.

The Maoist leaders denied all the allegations. “Our party does not have any policy of recruiting children for military purpose and we are not establishing any camps as alleged,” Ekraj Bhandari, a Maoist leader who also works as lawyer for the rebels, said. Bhandari said the Maoists were committed to the safety of children. “How can we run a rebellion by using the innocent young children? This is really a shocking allegation,” he replied.



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