Sabir S. Shrestha,
Wabash College, IN 47933
January 24, 2007
The Honorable Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Senator Biden,
I would like to draw your attention towards a growing human rights abuse in Nepal. Although the revolutionary war by the communist rebels, Maoists, seems to be coming to an end, the children that became a part of their violent campaign are still meandering with guns rather than books.
The story John Lancaster covered in Washington Post Foreign Service on June 14, 2005 titled “Concern Grows over Nepal's Child Fighters: 'Untouchables' Used by Rebels in Brutal War” uncovers the essence of the still growing human rights concern. He illustrates that 14 year old, Suraj Damai, was playing volleyball in his schoolyard, when 5 rebels abducted him. His second name, ‘Damai,’ is considered a lower caste in Nepal. In his case, the guerrillas have used the façade of ‘fighting castism and poverty’ to persuade him to fight against Nepalese Army Soldiers. Lancaster highlights that the Maoists have forced "abduction and forcible conscription of children . . . for political indoctrination and for use as combatants, informants, cooks or porters, and as human shields."
Approximately 4,500 out of 13,000 casualties in the guerrilla war are children under 16. The publication by the Human Rights’ Watch in February, 2007, “The civil war’s impact on children,” state that “the practice of recruiting and using child soldiers was taking place at such an alarming rate in Nepal that it was one of seven countries selected to implement a monitoring and reporting mechanism on violations against children in armed conflict established under UN Security Council Resolution 1612, unanimously adopted in July 2006.”
UNICEF’s annual report of 2007 cites that out of all the children whose primary education was suspended by the conflict, only 39 percent returned to schools. The remaining 61 percent of them were forced to stay home for the fear of abduction at schools, or forced to work after losing their families’ breadwinners to the conflict.
As you already know, there has been a huge progress in the political situation in Nepal since June 14, 2005. The communist party, Maoists, have now joined the interim government, and most of the human rights issues that they abused are becoming visibly evident. In this transition phase, United Nations Mission in Nepal is helping disarm and settle the fighters in the cantonment. However, it needs more assistance to rescue child soldiers.
The majority of the children under 16 in rural Nepal are drawn away from schools, instead of being admitted. Many still possess guns from the Maoist campaign. As the political situation in Nepal transit towards a peaceful resolution, this is an ideal phase to act productively. I believe that US, through USAID, can work hand-in-hand with UNICEF, Child Rights Agencies like Save the Children UK and Human Rights Agencies like Amnesty International to form a comprehensive child-focused program. The program will first demobilize the remaining child soldiers, and then rehabilitate them with proper food, housing and education. Finally, it will reintegrate and engage them in their own communities.
Sabir S. Shrestha,
Wabash College ’09.