The United Nations has expressed concern over the killing and maiming of children who continue to be recruited and used as human shields by Maoists in India and over the threat of sexual violence against girls within Naxalite ranks.
The Annual Report of the UN Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, released on Tuesday, said the recruitment and use of children, as young as six-years-old, by Naxalites, continued in 2013.
While no disaggregated data on the number of children associated with armed groups in India was available to the UN, it said independent estimates indicate at least 2,500 children are associated with armed groups in Naxal-affected areas.
It cited data of the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs and said boys and girls aged six to 12 years were recruited into specific children’s units, known as Bal Dasta and Bal Sangham, in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha states.
The report said children also continued to be placed in front of combat units as human shields. “Taking into account the use of children as human shields by the Naxalites, the United Nations is concerned about the killing and maiming of children in hostilities,” it said.
Noting that Naxalite recruitment affects girls and women, the report said the presence of girls within Naxalite ranks also raises concerns regarding sexual violence against them.
Based on statements of several women formerly associated with Naxalite groups, sexual violence, including rape and other forms of abuse, is a practice in some Naxalite camps, the report said.
“The recruitment and use of children remains to be criminalised by law. Of particular concern were several reports on the treatment of children allegedly associated with armed groups. Children arrested under security legislation are often detained with adults, not tried through the juvenile justice system and deprived of their right to due process of law,” it said.
While no disaggregated data on children killed or maimed in clashes between Maoist armed groups and security forces was available, at least 257 civilians, 101 security forces elements, and 97 Naxalite members were killed in 2013 in 998 incidents.
“Children are used as spies and for fighting with crude weapons, such as sticks. At the age of 12 years, children associated with Naxalites are reportedly transferred to age-specific units and receive military training in weapon’s handling and the use of improvised explosive devices.
“In Naxalite recruitment campaigns, targeting poor communities, parents are forced to offer boys and girls to the armed groups under the threat of violence, including killing and torture. Similarly, children are reportedly threatened with the killing of family members should they escape or surrender to security forces,” the report added.
Further, attacks on schools by Naxalites have continued to affect children’s access to education in affected areas. The report expressed concern over the military use of schools as barracks and bases, or the deployment of government security forces in vicinity of schools.
Presenting the report, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui said grave abuses are being committed against children in places such as Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, Nigeria and the Central African Republic.
“What is common to most of these conflict situations is that child rights are violated in total impunity,” she said. “If we are serious about protecting children, we must demand accountability.”
The annual report shows that children were recruited and used, killed and maimed, victims of sexual violence and other grave violations in 23 country situations last year.
A new entity appearing on the Secretary-General's list of perpetrators is the extremist group Boko Haram, responsible for ‘unspeakable violence against children’ in Nigeria, including killing and maiming as well as attacks against schools and hospitals.
Syria, where the UN documented widespread violations in 2013, continues to be an “extremely dangerous place to be a child,” she said.
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