NEW DELHI: A report released by United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres last week said Naxalites were recruiting children in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh to fight security forces, which the CRPF said was not a new trend.
The ‘Children in Armed Conflict’ report, which talked about killing or use of children in 20 countries including India, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Philippines and Nigeria, also said Naxalites were using the lottery system, particularly in Jharkhand, to recruit children.
“The United Nations continued to receive reports of the recruitment and use of children, including by the Naxalites, particularly in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Naxalites reportedly resorted to the use of a lottery system to conscript children in Jharkhand,” the report said. It, however, didn’t provide data on the number of children joining Maoists or any case study.
In the lottery system, children are recruited through a draw, where their names are written down on small bits of paper and randomly drawn.
Admitting that children aged 16 to 18 years were often forcibly taken away by Naxalites , officials in the lead anti-Naxalites force CRPF said “families are often forced to gift one child for their cause”.
“Sometimes, people allow their kids to be taken under pressure. But they are mostly boys above 16 years of age,” CRPF chief Rajeev Rai Bhatnagar said. However, he added that it was not something new or an alarming trend.
These young recruits, often called ‘baal dastas’ or child soldiers, have been traditionally used by Maoists as ‘informers’, ‘carriers’ or for technical jobs, but since there was a drop in the strength of Maoists over the years, they were using them in combat roles, said an official requesting anonymity.
The children are also used by Maoists as ‘shields’ to escape during a counter-terror operation as security forces don’t fire at the kids, the officer added.
CRPF officials said there was no data on how many kids may have joined the Naxalites over the years, but the numbers wouldn’t be too high. The tribals whose kids are taken away by Maoists usually don’t file a complaint with the police fearing for their life.
Some officials were critical of the UN report and said it appeared to have been prepared on “hearsay” as it didn’t have any figures, case study or incident to back its claim.
The annual report of the UN secretary general said over 10,000 children were killed or injured in conflicts in 2017 globally, while over 8,000 were used as combatants.