Violence in Chhattisgarh due to Naxalite and Maoist insurgency has been prevalent since 2005. However what is shocking is the recruitment of children on both sides of this endless tussle.
According to the news agency DB Post reporting from Dantewada, Anita Piyam, a naxalite captured in Dantewada in January, 2019 revealed that Naxals have been recruiting young girls from ashrams and hostels and giving them training in weapons and firearms.
According to Human Rights Watch reports, Naxalites recruit children between ages six and twelve and train them in Maoist ideology, used as informers, and taught to fight with non-lethal weapons (sticks). Then the children above 12 are promoted to street theater troupes, village-level associations, armed informers and armed squads. In the three latter associations, Naxalites give children training in using rifles and different types of explosives including landmines.
To counter naxalism and its propaganda policy in Chhattisgarh, Salwa Judum, a state aided militia was formed, which consisted mainly of local tribal youth. But there were reports of children forced to join as Special Police Officers in this militia as well. Finally, in 2011, in the judgment of Nandini Sundar & Ors vs State Of Chhattisgarh, the Supreme Court declared it as illegal and unconstitutional and ordered for its disbanding.
Salwa Judum still exists in the form of auxiliary forces, reserve groups or other vigilante groups. Use of children in areas affected by Maoist insurgency has also been affirmed by UN Report titled “Children and armed conflict” dated 16th May 2018.
These facts point out that the situation is so grave in naxal-affected areas that both the state and militias are involved in gross human rights violations. In this situation, the government has to adopt a stricter approach to curb the use of “child soldiers”.
This could be done by following methods: Firstly, the Indian Police Act, 1961 needs to be amended to specify minimum age of eighteen for recruitment of a person as a Special Police Officer. Secondly, there should be a law enacted to specifically criminalize recruitment of children in armed conflicts.
Thirdly, the state should provide for proper infrastructure in terms of schools and hospitals for children where they are able to seek education and treatment safely. Fourthly, a state government portal for complaints regarding child recruitment must be created and the complaints must be addressed expeditiously and diligently.
The central and state governments should also publish accurate data and reports on measures taken to curb the recruitment of child soldiers on this portal. The future of many children could be secured by the joint efforts of central and state government, if taken in the right direction.