Human Rights Watch: Indian forces, Maoist rebels use child fighters

New Delhi – Indian security forces and Maoist rebels should end the use of child fighters in their long conflict in the central state of Chhattisgarh, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Friday.

The New York based rights group said both sides have long used children, some of them as young as 12, in armed operations.

While the Maoist rebels admit they recruit children, India’s federal Home Ministry has denied the allegations.

HRW, in its 58-page report on the involvement of children in the Chhattisgarh conflict, said the local police have recruited and used an unknown number of children as special police officers since mid-2005, though officials now say that they have been removed from the ranks.

It quotes eyewitnesses and interviews with villagers and children who say they were recruited by either the police or the Maoists.

The report says the Maoists, who have been recruiting and using children for over a decade, deploy them to gather intelligence, for sentry duty, to make and plant landmines and bombs and to fight government forces.

‘It’s shameful that both India’s government and the Naxalites (the name used for Maoist rebels in India) are exploiting children in this dangerous fashion,’ the HRW release said.

It urged India to conduct age verification tests and remove all those below 18 from policing duties and provide them education and alternative employment.

It said Maoist commanders should release all children from their ranks and take strict measures to prevent further recruitment.

Maoist rebels are active in at least 13 of India’s 29 states and say they are waging a war for the rights of poor landless and tribal people.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the Maoists as the biggest threat to India’s internal security.

Thousands of people, mostly police, paramilitary personnel and government officials as well as rebels, have been killed in the Maoist insurgency since the late 1960s.