By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
The Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), facing losses across India, is trying to rebuild its cadre strength. With voluntary recruitment drying up, the group has started focusing increasingly on forced recruitment of children.
According to an August 2, 2021, report, around 12 tribal boys and girls between 12 and 16 years of age had been abducted and forcibly recruited into Maoist dalams (armed squads) over the preceding year from Andhra Pradesh.
In the most recent incident, on July 27, 2021, Police handed over a 12-years-old girl, who escaped from Maoist ‘custody’, to her parents at Chinturu in the East Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh. Charla-Sabari ‘area committee members’ (ACMs) Aruna, Geetha, Rajesh, Chiluka and some others had abducted the girl from Venkatapuram village in East Godavari District on June 17, 2021. When the parents of the girl tried to stop them, the Maoists had threatened them with dire consequences. According to Police officials, Maoists used her as a bonded labourer and forced her to ferry essential goods in the forest area, and also made the girl serve unwell Maoist leaders. The Maoists also ill-treated the girl.
In December 2020, a 14-years-old tribal boy, a native of Chhattisgarh, whose family is settled in Goluguppa, a habitation of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Chinturu Mandal (administrative sub-division) in East Godavari District, was allegedly abducted by the Maoists from his house. In the Police records, his official status remains ‘missing’.
On July 27, 2021, the Minister of State in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Nityanand Rai, in a written reply in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Indian Parliament) specified that there have been some reports of the CPI-Maoist inducting children into their outfit in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, using them for cooking, carrying daily use materials and collecting information regarding movement of Security Forces (SFs). They are also imparted military training.
On July 11, 2021, Superintendent of Police, Bhadradri Kothagudem District, Telangana, Sunil Dutt stated,
Several dalam [armed squad] members, surrendered during the past few years, are in their early twenties and they all joined the Maoist party in their teens. We have specific information that several senior leaders of Maoist party, including Central Committee members, and state committee members, have been using tribal children as guards and cooks.
A June 16, 2021, media report, revealed that Maoists have now taken to WhatsApp in a bid to communicate with Maratha youth and recruit them to the ‘movement’. The letter signed by Sahyadri aka Milind Teltumbde, ‘secretary’ of the CPI-Maoist Maharashtra ‘State Committee’, has been circulating on the messaging app, which tries to lure the youth, giving the example of the great Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji who fought for his Swarajya, his own kingdom. The letter appeals to youth to be real soldiers, like the great warrior who used guerrilla war techniques, to fulfil their aims. The letter adds,
The poor and deprived from other communities and CPI (Maoist) are with them in this battle. The strength of the community needs to be diverted towards revolution. We are waiting for you. Let’s join our hands.
Young children have long been recruited into ‘Bal Sangam’/ ‘Bal Dastas’ (village-level children’s squad of the CPI-Maoist) as ‘informers’, ‘carriers’ for technical jobs or as ‘shields’ to escape SFs operation or counter-operation. According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since March 6, 2000, when SATP started documenting Naxalite [Left Wing Extremism, LWE]-related violence, at least 11 children in Maoist ranks have been killed (data till August 22, 2021). During the same period, another, 91 such children have been arrested in search operations. At least 83 such children have surrendered before the Police, and have joined the mainstream to lead a normal life. Another 91 such children have been rescued by the SFs. Prominent incidents in which children in the Maoist ranks were used include:
June 9, 2015: 12 alleged Maoists, including four minors, aged 14-15 years, in olive-green uniforms and armed, were killed in a joint operation by the Police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) at Bhalwahi village under the Satbarwa Police Station limits in Palamu District, Jharkhand. Commenting on the encounter in which minors were killed, then Director General of Police (DGP), D K Pandey, stated that the “bullet does not differentiate, if children were a part of the Maoist squad, they would be killed.”
September 17, 2013: A 10-year-old boy, identified as Pardeshi Lohra, who was kidnapped by CPI-Maoist cadres, and was being taught how to assemble and plant bombs, died in an explosion during one such training session in Latehar District, Jharkhand.
June 28, 2012: A joint team of CRPF and the Chhattisgarh Police killed 17 suspected Maoists, including six minors, in Sarkeguda in Bijapur District.
On November 4, 2010, 13 Police personnel were injured when a Police team that raided a Maoist meeting at Chunapara area under Sankrail Police Station limits in Jhargram District, was attacked by the Maoists with bricks and batons. Police disclosed that “keeping women and children in the forefront as shields, the Maoists attacked the security personnel, resulting in injuries to 13 policemen.”
The then Additional Director General of CRPF, P. M. Nair, on May 25, 2011, divulging that Maoists were using innocent children and women as shields to escape during encounters with SFs. He consequently cautioned the Forces,
Security forces should be more alert in their fight against Maoists as they are using children and women in villages as shields to escape (during encounters).
The United Nations (UN) in its Children in Armed Conflict 2020 report released on May 6, 2021, reiterated that children were being used by Maoists. The earlier Children in Armed Conflict 2019 report, released on June 9, 2020, had recorded that, in the State of Jharkhand, approximately 10 children were reportedly rescued by Indian Police from Naxalite insurgent groups, who allegedly abducted them or used them in support or combat capacities. The Children in Armed Conflict 2017 report, released on July 2, 2018, it had also recorded that the Maoists were using the ‘lottery system,’ particularly in Jharkhand, to recruit children. The report observed,
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, however, did not provide data on the number of children joining the Maoists, or any case studies.
The Children in Armed Conflict 2016 report, released on April 28, 2017, indicated that Maoist abductions were a curse in Jharkhand. Children from the State’s western Districts of Lohardaga, Gumla, Latehar and Simdega, bordering the Maoist strongholds in Chhattisgarh and Odisha, were easy prey. Police estimated that over a thousand children had been abducted over the preceding few years and deployed as foot soldiers, couriers and sentries around Maoist camps.
The Children in Armed Conflict 2015 report, released on April 20, 2016, had highlighted the abduction of children as young as six years of age by armed groups, including Maoists, in Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Odisha and West Bengal. The report noted,
Reports indicate that children were coerced to join children’s units (bal dasta), where they were trained and used as couriers and informants, to plant improvised explosive devices and in frontline operations against national security forces.
The abduction of children, especially girls, by armed groups, is subject to further grave violations and abuses. Children have been forced to serve in combat functions, exposed to sexual violence. In April 2015, the Maoists reportedly abducted five girls aged between 10 and 13 years of age from Karcha village, West Bengal. Their whereabouts remain unknown.
Indeed, Nakul Yadav, a ‘sub-zonal commander’ of the CPI-Maoist, who surrendered to the Jharkhand Police on April 12, 2017, confessed to having abducted 90 children and killing three villagers in Bishunpur in Gumla District of Jharkhand, when they refused to hand over their children for recruitment.
Several reports have highlighted lack of facilities for education in Maoist-hit areas. Most recently, a July 2, 2021, report, revealed that during the COVID-19 induced lockdown, thousands of children in Chhattisgarh have been deprived of education, and due to the lack of opportunities, it is being feared that they may turn to Naxalism.
A June 28, 2021, report, revealed that around five thousand people, including children, in support of their demand to improve quality of education in Maoist-affected Koyalibeda in Kanker District of Chhattisgarh, rallied and staged demonstrations against the District Administration’s apathy. They demanded open schools, colleges, and deployment of adequate numbers of teachers in their educational institutions.
An unnamed senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officer from Bastar (Chhattisgarh) noted that around 50,000 school children may be swayed by Naxal influence, adding,
These teenagers are capable of writing banners, posters and are also big enough to be brainwashed… In some recent protests, we have seen a huge number of students who are of the age group between 16 to 18 years. They might be vulnerable.
Meanwhile, the Government has taken some steps for the rehabilitation of child recruits. The Central Government has enacted the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (JJ Act), for children in distress situation, including Children in Conflict with Law (CCL), and Children in Need of Care and Protection (CNCP). As per provisions of the JJ Act, a child who is victim of or affected by any armed conflict, civil unrest or natural calamity, is included as a “child in need of care and protection”, among others. The Act mandated a safety net of service delivery structures, including institutional and non-institutional care mechanisms, to ensure the best interest of affected children. Also, according to the JJ Act, any non-State, self-styled militant group or outfit declared as such by the Central Government, that recruits or uses any child for any purpose, shall be liable for criminal prosecution.
In addition, the Ministry of Women and Child Development has implemented a centrally sponsored Child Protection Services (CPS) scheme, to support the States/ Union Territories (UTs) in providing a framework for care and protection of children in distress conditions. Under the scheme, institutional care is available for CNCPs and CCLs, including provisions for boarding, lodging and holistic development of children, inter alia. The scheme also provides for noninstitutional care, where support is extended for adoption, foster care and sponsorship.
As the Maoists fail across the country, they are facing a weakening of cadre strength, resulting in forced abductions and recruitment of children. Both Central and State Governments, along with the security establishment need to approach this issue with great sympathy and adequate resources, to protect children from forcible recruitment, and also to rehabilitate those who are able to escape from Maoist custody.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management