Child Recruitment In People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA)

Child Recruitment In People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA)

The tragedy is that the issue of child recruitment in the Maoist fold is absent in the public discourse in India. Civil society and academia are conspicuously silent about it.

Estimates suggest that there are some 3,00,000 child soldiers active in conflicts around the world. A child soldier is defined as a soldier whose age is below 18 years. The United Nations considers the recruitment or use of children as soldiers as one of the six grave violations. However, this does not really keep the insurgent/ armed groups from recruiting the children in their armies. As in the case of other armed groups throughout the world, Maoists also recruit children in their armed wing. Apart from women which now happen to constitute almost half of the armed cadre of Maoists, the CPI (Maoist) also recruits children in large number. About 2,500 children are reported to have been taken into the Maoist fold. Children are used for courier, intelligence, sex and often as human shields. Various reports claim that Maoists recruit the children between the ages of six to twelve. Human Rights Watch in its report entitled, Dangerous Duty: Children and the Chhattisgarh Conflict (September 05, 2008), notes:

The Naxalites (Maoists) recruit children between ages six and twelve into children’s associations called bal sangams, where children are trained in Maoist ideology, used as informers, and taught to fight with non-lethal weapons (sticks).  Naxalites typically promote children above age 12 to other wings-chaitanya natya manch or CNMs (street theater troupes), sangams (village-level associations), jan militias (armed informers), and dalams (armed squads). In sangams, jan militias, and dalams, Naxalites give children weapons training with rifles and teach them to use different types of explosives including landmines.

Children in jan militias and dalams participate in armed exchanges with government security forces. Children in bal sangams, sangams, and CNMs do not directly participate in hostilities, but are nevertheless open to attacks by government security forces during anti-Naxalite combing operations. Children recruited into dalams may not be permitted to leave, and may face severe reprisals, including the killing of family members, if they surrender to the police.

However, Maoists flatly deny all these claims. In an interview in 2009, Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad, the then spokesperson and member of the CPI (Maoist)’s Central Committee, who was killed in an encounter with the Andhra Pradesh Police in Adilabad in 2010, had following to say on child recruitment in Maoist guerrilla army:

I can confidently tell you that there is not a single child soldier in our PLGA. Boys and girls in the villages do create problems when out PLGA squads visit them. They want to come with us and even parents request us to take them and teach them…So we take them to our camps and use the period to teach them basic knowledge—the three essential Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic).

He further says:

Even if a single case of recruiting someone who is under 16 years of age comes to the notice of any Party committee, action is taken promptly. 16 years is the minimum age for joining the PLGA. One may debate on this as the minimum age in the armed forces and police is 18 years. We have already explained in several interviews why 16 years is good enough in the conditions obtaining in the war zones where children are associated with the Party and the people‘s army from a very young age.

In a decade long Maoist insurgency in Nepal which ended in 2006, thousands of children were recruited in the Maoist army. On the initiative of United Nations, these child soldiers were released, the final batch of which (about 3000 child soldiers) was released in February 2008. However, when the question of child recruitment was asked to the Nepalese Maoist leader Prachanda, he responded in a similar fashion as that of India’s Maoists. The Human Rights Watch’s report entitled as Children in the Ranks: The Maoists’ Use of Child Soldiers in Nepal (2007) quoted him saying:

We do not even train children below 16 years old as militia…Children whose parents have been killed in the war—taking care of them is the responsibility of the party. That’s why we are compelled to take care of, educate and provide work for hundreds of children, even those who are 12 to 15 years old. This is a compulsion born out of the war.

For Maoists, it is easier to brainwash the children and allure them to their fold. Maoists can use child soldiers as cannon fodder in times of war, the causality of which may turn the table against the security forces in the perception war. Involving all sections of society (be it women or children) in the war zone gives Maoists an upper hand vis-a-via security forces in the combat. It creates a natural deterrence for the security forces as they have to take care of innocent people, especially children and women. This fits perfectly in the Maoist strategy:

All our plans, policies, strategy and tactics will be based entirely on the active involvement of the vast masses of people in this war of self-defence. The enemy class cannot decimate us without decimating the entire population in the regions we control. (emphasis added)

The CPI (Maoist)’s Constitution does not specifically talk about the recruitment policy of the PLGA, although it mentions the membership age. The membership age is 16 years.

Why do the Maoists deny the claims of the recruitment of the children at the age of 6-12 and instead, say the recruitment happens at the age of 16? Why have they set the age of 16 as the minimum age for joining the PLGA? The reason is clear: Maoists avoid to come in conflict with some international arrangements, which do not really prohibit ‘voluntary’ recruitment of persons below age of 17-18 years. For example, the International Criminal Court which was “established to help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community”, considers under Article 8 of the Rome Statute, 2002, the following as war crimes:

Conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into the national armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities.

However, now the international community is almost unanimous to consider any person below the age of 18 as child. The Paris Principles (Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups), 2007, prohibits the recruitments of children by armed force or group below the age of 18 years. By defining the child as a person less than the age of 18, it says:

A child associated with an armed force or armed grouprefers to any person below 18 years of age who is or who has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in hostilities.

The tragedy is that the issue of child recruitment in the Maoist fold is absent in the public discourse in India. Civil society and academia are conspicuously silent about it.

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