Child Soldiers in India: International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law

First optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict and Child Soldiers in India.

Thousands of children in India are effect with the armed conflict, directly or indirectly, sometimes with states and sometimes in opposition to state. The practice of child solders is widely practice in India in various forms, on one hand govt denies any such kind of employment in the state services, and on the other it holds various laws in which a child below age of 18 years can be employed in state security services which is in direct contravention with the First Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict to the Child Rights Convention of which India is a signatory. Due to the consequence of which a lot of children are deprived of their basic constitutional fundamental rights such as right to life, liberty, education, dignity and many more.

Unpaid service, obedient, easy to capture, dependency are the factors which make child vulnerable to get caught by the warlord(s) and deployed in the field to fight with lethal weapons.

Child soldier is the new form of modern day slavery and is worst of a kind, it seems to be a local problem in short run, but slowly it has vast consequences and has global impact in long run. There is an immediate need to end up this problem and that from both local and global level efforts, children are not to be employed in both state and non-state armed forces and pushed as a combatants. United nations have passed an optional protocol to end up this practice, but due to lack of enforcement among the states there have been very little changes in curtailing the practicing from both state and non-state actors.

First Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Child Soldiers

Child soldiers is a global issue and there has been efforts to prevent the children from being recruited as child soldiers on a global level, and the most prominent one was the fixation of Minimum age as 18 to be recruited as soldiers and also The United Nations Children Fund defines child soldiers as “any child (boy or girl) under eighteen years of age, who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity.” The age limit of 18 years is put forth by First Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict in 2002, before that the age was 15 years to participate into armed conflicts which were set by 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Additional Protocols.

But still almost 300 000 child soldiers are estimated to be employed into armed forces in the world[i] and out of them 40% are girl child soldiers. The numbers of child soldiers are more in African and Asian countries but still America and Europe also contributes to this humanitarian issues. According to CRC recruitment of boys and girls below the age of 18 years is illegal but still there are some loopholes which are negating the influence of this Additional Protocol, as children can join the armed forces voluntarily or on the consent of parents, state can give military training to child above 18 years of age. This exception of voluntarily employment in armed forces on one hand and restricting on the other in the protocol creates double standards and may leads to confusion, the UN general assembly brought this additional protocol with a hope of restricting the employment soldiers and it was also welcomed by the states, but it is also neglected and not very effectively implemented.

First Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict to CRC and its Implementation by State Armed Forces

It is clearly stated in the Article one of the First Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, that members of the armed forces who has not attained the age of 18 years must not take part in direct hostilities.[ii]  And government of India in its response states that

“5. The minimum age for recruitment of prospective officers into the Armed Forces of India (Army, Air Force and Navy) is 16½ years. However, after enrollment, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict recruits undergoes training. They are sent to the operational areas only after attaining 18 years of age. The minimum age for recruitment to Central Paramilitary Forces (CPF) is 18 years. Both the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Ministry of Defence have stated that no soldier below 18 years of age is deployed.

The provisions of Fundamental Rights, as enjoined into the Constitution of India, are adequate safeguards to prevent the State from coercing the citizens to join the Armed Forces”.[iii]

By this Indian state explains that only when the child attains the age of 18 years then only he is send to the field as combatants, not before that. He can be the member of the armed forces but he will not be confronted into direct hostilities.  But the reality on the ground is somewhat different and there have been instances where states have broken their own norm and acted in contravention with the provisions of Optional Protocol

In India “law and Order” being in the state list, give the state governments powers to recruit soldiers and deploy them into fields and state governments have been rampant in violating the CRC provisions of Child Soldiers , here are some of the instances:

  • Salwa Judum (meaning “Peace March” or “Purification Hunt” in Gondi language) was a militia mobilised and deployed as part of anti-insurgency operations in Chhattisgarh, India, aimed at countering Naxalite violence in the region. And there has been numerous reportings in which it is found that minors have been recruited as part of armed forces. A primary survey evaluated by the Forum for Fact-finding Documentation and Advocacy (FFDA) determined that over 12,000 minors were being used by the Salwa Judum in the southern district of Dantewada and that the Chhattisgarh Government had “officially recruited 4200 Special Police Officers (SPOs); many of them being easily identifiable as minors”.[iv]

The salwa judum campaigns were launched by state in 2005 to counter the insurgency of Maoists. Special Police officers were recruited among salwa judum members to join village defence forces and trained with arms state police and state security forces, and it that there are allegations that children below 18 years of age were recruited as SPO’s.  In March 2006 a human rights organisation visited Dantewada district in Chhattisgarh and found that children including nine girls between the age of 14 to 16 are recruited as SPO’s , they told that they were given trainings of how to use lethal weapons and also they are to be used as informers. After which the central govt issued directions to not to recruit children as SPOs, but still in December 2006 when the members of NCW visited Dantewada district they found that the tribal girls and children were still recruited in the salwa judum camps as SPOs and use as soldiers in camps against Maoists.[v]

In 2011 Supreme Court of India in declared the appointment of SPOs as “illegal and unconstitutional” in NANDINI SUNDAR & ORS. VERSUS STATE OF CHATTISGARH and directed the central government to take immediate steps to stop appointment of SPOs in the Salwa judum camps and also in other similer groups. After the decision was given in the case, state governments starts appointing the SPOs in to regular police force without ant training and other tutorials, the appointments have been done without any proper verification of documents and the age was written as 18, in some instances no school certificate was taken and as the authorities say it is a scheme for tribal welfare.

Article 2 and 3 of the First Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict: Article 2 talks about the minimum age compulsory and forceful employment into armed forces and that should be 18 years. In response to which Indian state declares that

There is no forced and coerced recruitment into the Armed Forces of India. Hence, Article 2 of the OP does not apply to India

Article 3 of the First Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict states that minimum age of voluntary employment into national forces should be more than 18 years. In response to which Government of India declares “Recruitment to the Armed Forces in India is purely voluntary and a person below 18 years of age cannot be inducted directly into the Armed Forces and hence, does not take direct part in hostilities. Recruitment of jawans in the Army is carried out through open recruitment rallies and those in the age group of 18-42 years are eligible to apply.”

This assertion made by government of India is made without taking into consideration of the practices made by the state governments. In MP police regulation, a child below the age of 18 years can be employed as “boy orderlies” section 60 of the regulation states that

“60. Boy-orderlies – A certain number of appointments as constables may be given by Superintendents to boys under the ages of 18. They are known as “boy-orderlies”, and receive half the pay of an ordinary constable. In making these appointments preference should always be given to sons or relatives of police officers, or of men who have rendered good service to Government. As soon as a boy-orderly satisfies the conditions laid down in Regulation 53, he should be given a preferential claim to appointment in the first vacancy that occurs.”

The Chhattisgarh Government has similar provision in their regulation of employing “balrakshaks” in the state police department. Home department of the State of Chhattisgarh in June 2011 declared that there are 300 balrakshaks employed in the state police department. They also stated that balrakshaks are mainly employed on the compassionate grounds on the death of their parents in the police departments, because of the reasons like Maoists/terror Attacks or Illness or any other similar grounds. The Balrakshaks are called on the duty only for three days a week after completing their school and they are only directed to move the files on the tables and other similar small official work. Still the fact remains that the kids are deprived from schooling for three days and they are forced compulsorily to come for state services which is against the spirit of the First Optional Protocol of which India is a signatory. States have their own excuse; they say that we inherited our legal system form the parent state, which is Madhya Pradesh, so we have such provisions of police regulation in our system.

Still giving any space to excuses is not possible when the future of a child is at stake, state that have a primary duty to protect and secure the rights of the vulnerable cannot become the violator.

First Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and Armed opposition group

First Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict Article 4 deals specifically with the problem of Child soldiers recruited and admitted into armed opposition group or non state armed forces, it states that

Armed groups that are distinct from the armed forces of a State should not, under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years”. And also

States Parties shall take all feasible measures to prevent such recruitment and use, including the adoption of legal measures necessary to prohibit and criminalize such practices”.

In India we have Maoists and Naxalites Forces who are the armed opposition groups but in response to this Article Indian state is of the opinion that no such armed opposition Group exists in India. In addition to that Government of India also declared that even if no such conflict is in existence in our Country, we still have enough legislative protection for children to prevent them being involved into such hostilities and provide them measures of care and protection.

Reality on the ground is something different in such a matter, on one hand state is denying the fact of existence any such conflict being there, and on the other hand banning 35 organisations under UAPA in 2012 as “Terror groups”.[vi]

There was a reported increase in the recruitment of children by Maoists since 2005.

Sources in the Communist Party of India (CPI) (Maoist) and in the Andhra Pradesh police were reported to have stated that children as young as 14 or 15 were being recruited into armed squads in Andhra Pradesh. Maoists claimed that they have their own children wing and their children’s division, the Bal Mandal, was not used in hostilities but that children were used only as messengers and informers. However, they admitted that they were provided with military training to prepare them for any situation.[vii]

Recruitment of under-18s by Maoists was also reported to have increased in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Some children were reportedly taken from school without their parents’ consent.[viii] Almost all those under-18s recruited by Maoists were reported to be illiterate and from tribal communities.

There was evidence that armed groups in Jammu and Kashmir and in Pakistan-administered Kashmir were actively recruiting children who are under the age of 18 years.22

The Jammu and Kashmir police claimed that around 200 children had been reported missing in the state since 2004, alleging that most of these were children of poor and illiterate families who had been recruited by militants, although this is not independently confirmed.[ix]

Some were said to be as young as 13 or 14 and using sophisticated weapons. In August 2004 the Indian Army claimed to have caught nine children who were armed. The army claimed that some of them were from Pakistan and had been trained by Pakistan-based armed groups including the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen as well as the Hizbul Mujahideen.[x]  Sates failure to proves basic means of development as education and employment opportunities for young people is also leading to their recruitments by armed groups.

Children as young as ten were said to be used by armed groups as messengers and couriers and provided with basic training in the use of weapons. The use of children by armed groups put them at increased risk from the security forces. During 2005 and 2006 there were two major incidents in which security forces opened fire on children. In Bangergund in Kupwara district soldiers of the Rashtriya Rifles waiting to ambush militants claimed to have mistakenly shot dead three boys and critically injured a fourth on the night of 23 July 2005. The army said that the boys had acted suspiciously by failing to stop when challenged. In Doodipora, Handwara, on 22 February 2006 soldiers shot at a group of children playing cricket, claiming that militants were among them, killing four boys including an eight-year-old.[xi]

There have been lesser evidence to support the fact of being children involved into the armed conflicts in north eastern regions, but still this cannot be in toto denied that no such practice goes on those areas.

The report further claimed that other armed groups operating in the north-east, including the NSCN (it was not reported which faction), the United Liberation Front (Manipur) and the People’s Liberation Army (Manipur) openly recruited children. The report claimed that the smallest boys, as “the most fearless”, were placed closest to the enemy.[xii]

The fact still remains that government of India only by denying the existence of any insurgency cannot protect the children of the country by this effect of being recruited by the armed groups, the vulnerability of the children who belong to poor and marginalised section of the society is always a plus point acting in favour of the warlords who are active in such Insurgency affected areas

Article 6 of the First Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict deals with the process of disarmament, demobilisation and again reintegration of such children, article 6 states:

States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons within their jurisdiction recruited or used in hostilities contrary to the present Protocol are demobilized or otherwise released from service. States Parties shall, when necessary, accord to such persons all appropriate assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and their social reintegration.”

Though this provision is binding on the government of India but still there is no specific relief programme or policies of rehabilitation from the government for child soldiers. People working into the areas have reported that there are fewer effective polices at state level to reintegrate militants into mainstream.

Conclusion

Protection of children from any kind of hostility is the paramount objective of the state in the constitutional democracy, and constitution of India imposes a duty on the government of India to take specific measures to ensure all the rights of development of a child must be protected. With this objective being the signatory of the First Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict to Child Rights Convention, Indian state is duty bound to protect a minor child to get exploited from the armed groups, State or Non-state. Provisions which are clearly in contravention with the provisions of the protocol is to be removed from the legal system, inhuman practices of the employment of child in state armed forces is to be taken down as soon as possible. Not state armed opposition groups must be checked to practice the recruitment of child as child soldiers, this is not be possible only by imposing sections on them, this can be made possible by promoting awareness and literacy among groups who are targeted by these armed forces and this kind of practice is to curtailed by making more and more changes on the policy level, a good policy for the better future of child may act more deterrent in comparison to sanction on the persons employing the child as child soldiers. And to all those who have been clutched by the state and non-state armed forces the task of reinstating back them into society must be the objective of the state for the better future of the children of the country.

Endnotes

[i] Deen, Thalif. November 7, 2002. UN Report on Child Soldiers Ignores Worst Offenders.

[ii]  “States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that members of their armed forces who have not attained the age of 18 years do not take a direct part in hostilities.” Article 1 Optional Protocol one to CRC

[iii] Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

[iv] Zemp, Ueli; Mohapatra, Subash (29 July 2007). “Child Soldiers in Chhattisgarh: Issues, Challenges and FFDA’s Response”. Retrieved 31 May 2009.

[v] Child Soldiers, Global Report 2008 by Coalition to stop the use of child soldiers at www.child-soldiers.org

[vi] The details of the banned organizations are available in the website of the MHA at: http://

www.mha.nic.in/uniquepage.asp?Id_Pk=292

[vii] “Maoist rebels spread across rural India”, Christian Science Monitor, 22 August 2006.

[viii] “Children at war in insurgency zone”, Times of India, 29 May 2007.

[ix] Human Rights Watch (HRW), “Everyone lives in fear”: Patterns of impunity in Jammu and Kashmir, September 2006

[x] “Army grappling with ‘child warriors’ in J&K”, Hindustan Times, 1 August 2004.

[xi] HRW

[xii] Child soldiers in northeast raise concerns”, New Delhi TV, 5 May 2007, www.ndtv.com.

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