NEPAL: Nepal's ex-child soldiers threaten violent protest

Summary: In Nepal, children who fought for the Maoist army were denied cash and training offered as part of a peace deal to their older comrades after officials discovered they were underage. Recruiting and using children as soldiers is prohibited under international humanitarian law and is defined as a war crime by the International Criminal Court. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict declares 18 as the minimum legal age for recruitment and use of children in hostilities.

[Kathmandu, 6 December 2012] - Hundreds of former child soldiers protested Thursday in front of the Maoist headquarters in Kathmandu, angry at being denied a compensation package for ex-rebels and threatening a violent uprising.

The protesters, who have been sleeping and eating on a patch of land they seized a week ago, say their party abandoned them after it joined mainstream politics at the end of a 10-year insurgency in 2006.

They were among more than 4,000 children who fought for the Maoist army during the civil war but were denied cash and training offered as part of a peace deal to their older comrades after officials discovered they were underage.

"We won't leave this place unless our rights are ensured. When we joined the party, we didn't think we would be abandoned," Sagar Limbu, head of a committee of former child soldiers, told AFP.

In a thinly veiled threat he reminded Maoist party leaders that they had taught the child soldiers how to use guns and said his group wouldn't "stay quiet" if they were treated as expendable.

"We will tolerate this for a while. But if we are ignored, we won't rule out even a physical attack on the leaders," Limbu said.

The group also announced anti-government protests including an hour-long traffic blockade, pickets of the headquarters of Nepal's major parties and a torch rally in Kathmandu.

Raju Gahatraj, who joined up aged 14 in 2002, said he felt humiliated when he was disqualified as a bona fide combatant after fighting for years.

He and his comrades are demanding a relief package of 600,000 rupees ($7,000) -- the amount offered to many adult fighters who finally left the cantonments as part of a peace agreement late last year.

Under the peace deal 6,500 of the 19,000 Maoist rebels were offered places in regular army while the remainder were to choose between retirement payoffs of up to 800,000 rupees or vocational training.

Around 1,500 decided to join the Nepalese Army, while the majority went for the cash, with only a handful of takers for training.



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