Misuse Of Children In Madhes Movement:Roshan Kumar Jha

Despite the strong legislation on children’s rights in Nepal, there has been great misuse of children in the ongoing indefinite agitation called by the United Madhesi Front. There are no comprehensive or verified data regarding the misuse of children by the United Madhesi Front in the Terai. However, the media, human rights organisations and community rights activists have reported numerous incidents that expose gross violation of children’s rights by the United Madhesi Front, who have resorted to abduction, killing, sexual violence and recruitment of children to serve their purpose. At a time when the nation is looking forward to sustainable peace following the promulgation of the new constitution that ensures and protects the rights of all its citizens, the children in the Terai are being vulnerable to violence and exploitation.

t is estimated that some 300,000 children boys and girls under the age of 18  are today involved in more than 30 conflicts worldwide. Children are used as combatants, messengers, porters and cooks or forced to provide sexual services. Some are abducted or forcibly recruited in armed groups, others are driven to join them due to poverty, abuse and discrimination, or to seek revenge for violence against them or their families. Children are more likely to become child soldiers if they are separated from their families, displaced from their homes, living in combat zones or have limited access to education. Children may join armed groups as the only guarantee to their daily food and survival.

In 2002, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict entered into force. It outlaws the involvement of children under the age of 18 in hostilities, raising the previous standard of age (15 years) set by the Convention and the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols. Besides requiring States to raise the age for compulsory recruitment and direct participation in conflict to 18, the Optional Protocol requires State parties to raise the minimum age for voluntary recruitment beyond the current minimum of 15.

Another milestone was set in July 2002 when the Statute of the International Criminal Court entered into force, making the conscription, enlistment or use of children under 15 in hostilities by national armed forces or armed groups a war crime.

Strikes in Nepal have been used by Nepalese politicians to fulfill their personal or partisan interests. They are snatching the human rights of innocent people. A bandh affects almost all sectors like education, health and industry. It is not that politicians do not know about the impacts strikes have on the people and the economy. They know about them but tend to ignore them just because their prime concern is their personal interest rather than that of the nation or its citizens.

On the other hand, the politicians are not the only reason why the Nepal bandh culture has flourished. It’s also the people and it’s us, because we never try to defy any bandh. People know the cause and they know the impact, but they hesitate to rebel against it. There are lots of associations and organisations of the people. If people were to work together to flout a bandh, it would soon be history. Unity is strength, and people need to prove it through their action. I believe that a “good leader always thinks of others, not of him/herself”.

Fasting as a weapon

There are may alternatives to a strike, namely fasting. Fasting or abstaining from all (or certain) kinds of food for religious purposes is pretty common in south Asia. Over the past century, the region has also witnessed numerous fasts by eminent personalities and ordinary citizens seeking justice or demanding correction of wrongs. Perhaps the most important and effective were the fasts undertaken by Mahatma Gandhi as part of his struggle to overthrow British rule from India.

n recent years, Anna Hazare, the 76-year-old social activist, has used fasting as a weapon to fight corruption in India. His fasts seeking strong anti-corruption laws have galvanised millions across India and shaken the corridors of power.

Nepal hasn’t remained untouched by this form of protest. Last month a 14-day fast unto death by Dr Govinda KC, a senior orthopedic surgeon and professor at Tribhuvan University’s Institute of Medicine (IoM), had affected the health services across Nepal.

The immediate reason for the fast was the alleged political interference in the appointment of the IoM’s new dean, but Dr KC also wanted an end to the corruption in the country’s premier medical institute on a range of issues, including granting of affiliations to medical and nursing colleges. The government finally relented and agreed to appoint a new dean as demanded by Dr KC.

The prominent leaders of the United Democratic Madhesi Alliance would do well to use fasting as a weapon to fulfill their rational demands. Their violent agitation has affected the lives of the people, especially the children of the Terai.

(The author is a Kathmandu-based Human Rights and Criminal Lawyer.)


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