Nepal: Children in the War Zone

by Li Onesto

Revolutionary Worker #1274, April 10, 2005, posted at

The following is a chapter from the book Dispatches from the People's War in Nepal.

Out of Nepal's 23 million people, almost eleven million are under 16 years old.

Nepalese officials, newspapers in Nepal and internationally, and various human rights organizations have claimed that the insurgency in Nepal is responsible for the deaths of many children and accuse the Maoists of 'recruiting child soldiers' and using children as 'human shields.' There have also been widespread reports that thousands of youth have fled their homes in the countryside, allegedly to avoid being 'press-ganged' into the People's Liberation Army.

The official policy of the CPN (Maoist) is that no one under the age of 18 is allowed to join the People's Liberation Army, and minors who have responded to recruitment calls have been told they cannot join the PLA and people's militias. At the same time, the CPN (Maoist) organize youth under 18 to support the People's War in many other ways. An article in The Worker (an official publication of the CPN [Maoist]), says: 'While they have been strictly forbidden to join people's armed force, they [the minors] have been organized under Akhil Bal Sangathan, a children's organization which takes care of the overall development of children, including their right to express their solidarity to what they consider is good, including the People's War ...'1

In February 2003, a report by the Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN) Concerned Center, widely cited in the press in Nepal and internationally, asserted that: 'The death toll for children under 16 has reached 96 as a consequence of the war between the Maoists and the government' and 'nearly 3,000 children have been displaced from their homes and at least 1,500 have been orphaned following the conflict.'2

News articles about 'children being harmed by the Maoists' assert statistics like: '168 children have been killed in the Maoist insurrection.' But such reports don't actually say these children have been killed by the Maoists. In fact, the government's own statistics show that it is the police and Royal Nepal Army that have been responsible for killing thousands of people, including many children.

It was widely reported that, by December 2002, more than 7,000 people had died in the conflict between government forces and Maoist guerrillas, and that over 4,000 of these deaths had occurred since November 2001. The vast majority of these deaths were at the hands of the police and RNA soldiers. Government sources say that of the 4,366 people killed during the year following November 2001, 4,050 were Maoists. But as many human rights groups have pointed out, most of these victims were civilians targeted for their real or perceived support for the Maoists. Human Rights Watch reported that in the first few months after the State of Emergency was declared in November 2001, over 1,300 'suspected Maoists,' including 'civilians once associated with Maoists as well as those possessing Maoist literature,' had been killed by government security forces. Between November 2001 and October 2002, 4,366 people had died in the conflict, compared to around 2,700 deaths in the previous five years.3

In other words, more people had been killed by the police and RNA in this one year than the total number killed in the first five years of the insurgency.

Those arguing that the 'Maoists are killing children' fail to mention that even those human rights groups that reported that '168 children had been killed in the Maoist insurgency' also reported that government forces had unjustly killed many people, including children, using the pretext of 'skirmishes' or 'encounters' with rebel forces.

A lot of human rights groups, either consciously or not, help spread disinformation and confusion about the situation in Nepal by 'evenhandedly' criticizing the government and the Maoists for 'human rights violations', even though by their own statistics, the overwhelming majority of those killed have died at the hands of government forces. But these groups do cite and chronicle many cases in which the state has killed children accused of supporting the Maoists. They have also reported on the abuse of children held in jail on suspicion of being rebel soldiers.

One RNA officer admitted that in the heat of battle, government soldiers rarely distinguish between men, women, and children. One army captain told a reporter, 'Anyone with a gun is an enemy.'4 Furthermore, any discussion about the plight of children in Nepal needs to look at the semi-feudal and capitalistic system under which millions of children live in dire poverty and brutal servitude. This is the very system the Maoists want to do away with.

For example, in Nepal, there are 32,000 child laborers working in 1,600 stone quarries. Almost half of these children fall ill soon after starting to work and regularly suffer from coughs, backache, fever, visual impairment, and joint and muscle pain. Almost all of them have had accidents and injuries while working to excavate and extract stones and boulders from quarries, loading goods on trucks, or crushing boulders into gravel. One news article recounted the story of a 13-year-old boy who goes to school in the morning and on the way home stops at a quarry site and crushes stones for hours. He earns between 20 and 30 rupees a day (less than 50 cents), which helps his family of five survive.5

A nationwide study by Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu reported that more than 27 percent of the children in Nepal—some 2.6 million children—work as child laborers and that 60 percent of the children are between 6 and 14 years old. Almost one million work without pay and many work as bonded laborers, forced to work for an employer for a specific period of time, without any rights. Deep poverty is also responsible for the suffering of millions of children in Nepal. It is estimated that 50 percent of the children in Nepal are afflicted by malnutrition. And because of the lack of clean water, sanitary conditions, and health care in the countryside, many children die of common, curable diseases.6


1 The Worker #6, October 2000.

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2 State of the Rights of the Child in Nepal—2003, Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Centre (CWIN) annual report.

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3 Kathmandu Post , January 15, 2003, 'Int'l Community Has Paid Little Attention to Nepal: Human Right Watch,' by Akhilesh Upadhyay.

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4 Asia Times , January 18, 2003, 'Nepal: Suffer the Little Children,' by Suman Pradhan.

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5 Kathmandu Post , July 1, 2002, '30,000 Child Labourers in Nepal' and Kathmandu Post, July 6, 2002, '32,000 Children Working in 1,600 Stone Quarries: Report', by Seema A Adhikari.

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6 Kathmandu Post , October 18, 2002, 'Fifty per cent Children Suffer from Malnutrition in Nepal.'

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Dispatches from the People's War in Nepal by Li Onesto is available from Pluto Press,; University of Michigan Press,; Insight Press,;; Revolution Books stores and outlets. Go to for photos, updates on news, reviews, and speaking engagements.