Why Chil­dren Are Pick­ing Up the Gun


Y RAKESH MEITEI of Sing­jamei in Im­phal is a wor­ried man. “Ma­nipuris are used to liv­ing amid con­flict, but the past three months have been dif­fer­ent,” he says. “To­day, ev­ery par­ent is afraid, just like me.” In the past three months, around 10 cases of ab­duc­tions have sur­faced in the Im­phal val­ley alone, where par­ents al­lege that mi­nors are be­ing ab­ducted or lured by rebel groups to be trained as child sol­diers. Amidst wide­spread anger and protest, the rebels were forced to set free three chil­dren. Montu Ahan­them, a child rights ac­tivist, says th­ese in­ci­dents are on the rise. “The state gov­ern­ment should look at it from a so­cial per­spec­tive, rather than as a law-an­dorder sit­u­a­tion”.

Chair­per­son of the Na­tional Com­mis­sion for Pro­tec­tion of Child Rights ( NCPCR) Shanta Sinha, dur­ing the com­mis­sion’s re­cent stock­tak­ing visit to Ma­nipur, had clearly aired her dis­ap­point­ment at the Okram Ibobi Singh gov­ern­ment’s fail­ure in con­trol­ling child-traf­fick­ing and ab­duc­tion by un­der­ground groups. Else­where, groups like the Garo Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Army ( GNLA) of Megha­laya and the out­lawed Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Front of Tripura ( NLFT) have also re­cruited mi­nors in hun­dreds. “The com­mis­sion has de­cided to take up this is­sue suo moto, con­tin­gent on the sit­u­a­tion in Ma­nipur and Megha­laya, and raise it with the Union Home Min­istry,” says NCPCR mem­ber Yo­gesh Dube.

The Ma­nipur gov­ern­ment has asked ev­ery district SP to put to­gether spe­cial teams to check child sol­dier cases. Ma­nipur has one of the high­est drop-out rates: 64 per­cent at the pri­mary level, and 70 at the ju­nior level. “Rebels are los­ing sup­port here and in­sur­gency is on the de­cline in Ma­nipur. They feel mi­nors are an easy re­cruit,” says Ma­nipur Home Min­is­ter G Gaikhangam.

Dr Lai­fung­bam De­bra­bata Roy, of the Cen­tre for Or­gan­i­sa­tion Re­search & Ed­u­ca­tion ( CORE) in Ma­nipur, says chil­dren are at­tracted to the gun cul­ture early on. “They think hav­ing a gun wields power. They have seen se­cu­rity forces use the Armed Forces Spe­cial Pow­ers Act ( AFSPA) in a bar­baric way. And then there’s poverty, which makes it eas­ier for the rebels to tap the young minds,” Roy opines. An­other ac­tivist, a Na­tional award-win­ning film­maker and jour­nal­ist, Bachas­pa­ti­mayum Sanzu, says, “I have been able to doc­u­ment child sol­diers in many rebel bases, but it is a risky af­fair here”.

A top com­man­der of a banned out­fit, on the con­di­tion of anonymity, re­vealed to TE­HELKA the modus operandi: “Mi­nors are an eas­ier lot to train. Ini­tially, the boys cry but they also fall in line quickly, be­cause they are fresh and smart. By the time they are fully trained, they can serve the party for a long time. We even re­cruit girls, but they are not given arms train­ing. There are some col­lab­o­ra­tors and free­lancers who re­cruit mi­nors for us on a com­mis­sion ba­sis.”

Ma­nipur has about 35 banned rebel out­fits op­er­at­ing in its hills and val­leys. Ac­cord­ing to ac­tivists, 338 chil­dren traf­ficked from Ma­nipur were res­cued from out­side the state be­tween 2009 and 2012; iron­i­cally, no one has records for chil­dren traf­ficked within the state. TE­HELKA contacted four fam­i­lies who had lost their chil­dren in 2008, never to come back, but all re­fused to talk be­cause their child is now a ‘rebel’.

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