Maoist insurgents in northern India have resorted to using children as support staff, according to a UN report that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon submitted to the Security Council this month.
The report, "Children and Armed Conflict", found that minors are being recruited from Chhattisgarh and adjoining states such as Jharkhand and Odisha. It cited a December 2011 Indian government report, which found that Maoists "were recruiting and indoctrinating children, and had constituted children's squads and associations."
The children, it said, are brought into the Maoist ranks through abduction and intimidation, and are then "trained to be messengers, spies, cooks and porters". It was the first time that the Maoist insurgents, locally known as Naxals, have been mentioned in a UN report.
A local police official in Chhattisgarh confirmed that authorities have found possible evidence of child recruitment.
"Yes, the report is correct," R. K. Vij, inspector general of police for Chhattisgarh's Durg range, told a press conference. "Recently, when we raided a Maoist camp located in a forest in the Rajnandgaon district bordering Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district we were confounded to find a large number of school uniforms, in addition to a huge cache of arms and ammunition, in the rebels' hideout."
However, he added, there may be another explanation. "We suspect that the ultras might have taken up a new line of attack to mislead the security forces by wearing school uniforms during encounters."
"We have already pressed our intelligence network in all Maoist-dominated areas to solve the mystery of figuring out the latest approach adopted by the Maoists," Chhattisgarh Home Minister Nanki Ram Kanwar told Khabar South Asia.
In addition to the militants in India, the UN report also cited the abuse of children in Pakistan by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and similar groups, which it said were using minors to carry out suicide attacks.
Over the course of 2011, a total of 11 incidents were reported involving children – including a nine-year-old girl -- being used by armed groups to carry out suicide attacks.
"One boy was killed and another was arrested in a double suicide attack on a Sufi shrine in Dera Ghazi Khan, southern Punjab, which killed 50 people and injured 120 [in April 2011]," the report said. "A 14-year-old survivor reported having been trained for two months in Taliban camps in North Waziristan."
"In another incident on August 19th 2011, a boy was used in a suicide attack during Friday prayers at a mosque in the Ghundai area of Khyber Agency, killing 48 people and injuring more than 100," it said.
According to Nishant Akhilesh, president of the Jharkhand Chapter of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, the problem of child recruitment is not confined to any one group or ideology. Impressionable young people are vulnerable to any number of organisations seeking to push extreme or divisive viewpoints, he suggested.
"The Maoists are no exception as today several organisations are recruiting children. For instance, there are communal groups, schools, madrassas, churches and others, which are preaching religious supremacy," Akhilesh said.
"Children are receptive by mind and nature and they can be doctored to become a Maoist or think against the government. But then children can also be made communal by doctored preaching," he said.