Child soldiers assuming dangerous proportions in Manipur

July 20th, 2008 - 1:14 pm ICT by IANS  


Imphal, July 20 (IANS) Indian authorities in the restive northeastern Manipur state have warned parents against letting their children venture out alone after some 20 teenagers were recruited as child soldiers by separatist groups, officials Sunday said. “Instructions have been given to step up vigil and any children found without being accompanied by their guardians would be detained. These steps were being taken to thwart movement of militants with kidnapped children,” Manipur police chief Y. Joy Kumar said.

In the past 45 days, at least 20 children in the age group of 10 to 16 went missing from various parts of the state although their parents did not lodge any formal police complaints.

“Initially, we thought some human trafficking rackets or syndicates operating for bonded labour were involved. But now it is certain that these children were lured or kidnapped by various outlawed militant groups,” Radheshyam Singh, police chief of Imphal East district, told IANS.

At least two militant groups, the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (Prepak) and the Prepak Cobra Task Force, have claimed to have recruited child soldiers although leaders of both the rebel groups told the media that the kids joined their outfits voluntarily.

Last week, two boys aged 10 and 13, were released by the Task Force before journalists with both the kids telling the media they joined the outfit on their own. The Task Force decided to release the two children after mounting pressure from locals.

“This is a dangerous phenomenon of militants recruiting child soldiers. The situation is alarming as there could be more than 20 boys and girls who could be in the clutches of underground groups,” said Babloo Loitongbam, director of Human Rights Alert, a leading rights group in Manipur.

Police are handicapped with no formal complaints lodged by parents about missing children. “There could be more cases of children recruited as child soldiers with parents failing to lodge a complaint,” Singh said.

For the past week, 45-year-old Muhila Devi, a resident of Pishumthong near Manipur capital Imphal, has been shattered, crying inconsolably and breaking into regular fits after her 14-year-old daughter Surda went missing.

“She is a minor and anybody who is holding her captive, please return her to me,” a sobbing Devi said as she stared blankly at her daughter’s schoolbag.

Such is the fear that many parents have stopped sending their children to school.

“For three days I did not send my son to school fearing something unfortunate might happen. Now I take my son to school and wait outside for the whole day until the end,” Garima Devi, a housewife, said.

There are 19-odd militant groups active in Manipur, bordering Myanmar, with demands ranging from independence to greater autonomy with an estimated 10,000 people killed in insurgency during the past two decades.

There has been a wave of protests across the state with parents of missing children staging demonstrations with placards asking militant groups to release their kids.

“This is the first time in Manipur’s history when we found the militants recruiting child combatants. This is a dangerous trend,” said Suripriya Devi, whose 13-year-old nephew is among those believed to have been kidnapped by the militants.

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