MANIPUR MOTHERS WANT CHILDREN BACK
Militants are abducting children and using them as soldiers. Parents are in a state of panic.
Desperate for new cadres, insurgent groups in Manipur have begun targeting children for recruitment again, a practice that is not new to the state. Following the abduction of 10 children by extremists in the past one month, parents are now scared to send their children to schools and playgrounds. “We are all afraid of going out but still have to earn a livelihood. Why do they take away children who are needed more by the family?” says the brother of a kidnapped child. Like his brother, he too dropped out of school to help his parents who are daily wage labourers.
On April 7, three children— Chanam Ajoynao, Soraishem Naothoibi and Sapam Suran— were kidnapped by the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak ( Prepak). The three boys, all of them 14, went to watch a football match at Atong Khuman, 2 km from their vil- lage Sairem in Imphal West district.
“We were promised money, shoes and mobile phones by someone we know. So we went with him to Imphal. Some other men forcibly took us to a militant camp there,” said one of the trio. When intense media pressure followed, the boys were released on April 22 in noman’s land along the ManipurMyanmar border. The boy has been warned not to name the acquaintance who lured them to Imphal.
On April 21, 12- year- old Rahul Takhellambam, a Class VII student of Don Bosco School in Imphal, was abducted by militants when he was going back to the hostel. A militant group demanded a ransom of Rs 3 lakh from the school management for releasing Takhellambam. Three days later, he fled from the shack he was kept in and returned home.
There are 37 militant groups active in Manipur, with hideouts in the jungles bordering Myanmar. According to police records, 66 chil-
dren aged between eight and 17 have been kidnapped by underground outfits since 2008. The actual number is higher, but many parents do not report to the police, fearing retribution. L. Pangalkanba Singh, 16, and Y. Ningthem, 18, both from Haorang Keirang village near Sairem, went missing on April 14, but the parents have not lodged a complaint.
The modus operandi is simple. Local agents of the militant groups target children from families below the poverty line. These agents, who are mostly from the same village and known to the victim, take the child’s photograph and meticulously record his movement. He is then lured with the promise of a mobile phone, shoes, T- shirt or just a ride in a car. For every child, an agent is paid between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000.
While the police claim to have beefed up security arrangements following these abductions, schools have also warned students and parents to take precautionary measures. “We are doing our best to rescue the children. At the same time, I request the parents to monitor their children’s movement more closely,” says Ratnakar Baral, director- general of police, Manipur. Chief Secretary D. S. Poonia admits the government is yet to formulate a comprehensive policy to prevent recruitment of child soldiers.
Child right activists in Manipur believe it is high time that militant groups were sensitised about the illeffects of recruiting child soldiers. “No organisation or police action will stop this trend. The insurgent groups must understand that it’s a gross violation of human rights. The need is of a public uprising to make them understand this simple truth. Whenever some groups of people, no matter how small they are, have taken to the streets, these organisations have realised their mistake and released the children. A statewide awakening will put an end to this practice,” says Annie Mangsatabam, state coordinator, Action Against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children, Manipur.
ANGOM RITA WITH HER SON ANGOM LANGAMBA IN IMPHAL
( FROM LEFT) AJOYNAO , NAOTHOIBI, SURAN AFTER THEIR RELEASE