‘There Is a Limit to Our Tolerance’: Nepal’s Former Child Soldiers Protest for Justice

Former child soldiers descended on Kathmandu en masse in early November to stage an ongoing protest to demand justice for having been forced into the military and to seek recognition from the Maoist-let government.Yam Kumari Kandel, GPJ Nepal

Ex-child soldiers, who served in the Maoist army during Nepal’s lengthy civil war, are demonstrating in Kathmandu to gain compensation and social programs, among other demands. They can’t find good-paying jobs, they say, because while fighting they missed out on opportunities for schooling and other training; but a Maoist party leader says the problems will soon be addressed.

KATHMANDU, NEPAL— Former child soldiers who say they face undue discrimination and stigma have thronged to this capital city to stage protest marches and sit-ins outside government offices.

The wave of more than 300 people includes many who, as children, were conscripted into the People’s Liberation Army of the Maoists during Nepal’s decadelong civil war. They say they face undue stigma and discrimination for their pasts, and they’ve put forward demands that they want the Maoist-led government to approve. (Read GPJ’s coverage of Nepal’s former child soldiers here.)

Those demands include recognition as fighters of the republic and an acknowledgement that the Maoist party recruited children as soldiers, says Lenin Bista, chairman of the Discharged People’s Liberation Army Nepal, one of the main organizers of the protest.

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Reshmi Shahi, 27, (left) and Laxmi B.K., 28, are both former child soldiers who joined the protest. Shahi says she was injured in combat but did not receive any treatment.

Yam Kumari Kandel, GPJ Nepal

They also want compensation and justice for being forced to bear arms, and the creation of social and economic programs for former child soldiers, as well as medical and psychological treatment for the former soldiers who need it. Some child soldiers joined willingly as teens, but many others were given little choice, as Maoists demanded that families sacrifice for their cause.

Many former child soldiers say they can’t find good-paying jobs because they missed out on opportunities for schooling and other training. They’re not able to join Nepal’s military, the place where they say their skills can be used, because they were active in an insurgency.

The citywide protest began on Nov. 4.

On Nov. 7, a group of the protesters was arrested while en route to the headquarters of the Community Party of Nepal (Maoist Center). Some were released 24 hours later.

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Some of the former child soldiers who have joined in the protest in Kathmandu are now mothers. They carry their children with them as they line the roads leading to Maoist political party offices.

Yam Kumari Kandel, GPJ Nepal

Bista says the arrests will not deter them.

“Our protest is a pressure on those who are in the government,” Bista says.

The Maoist party ruined children’s lives by giving them guns when they should have been in school, he says.

“The Maoists should take responsibility for us at any cost,” Bista says. “We will knock on the door of international tribunals if they run away brushing aside our demands.”

Khadka Bahadur Ramtel, vice chairman of the Discharged People’s Liberation Army Nepal, says the protest is nonviolent, with many demonstrators wearing black bands to cover their mouths in a symbolic gesture of a silent protest.

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Khadka Bahadur Ramtel, 25,shown here, and other former child soldiers are protesting throughout Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, to demand justice from the Maoist-led government.

Yam Kumari Kandel, GPJ Nepal

But the former soldiers are becoming restless with the lack of response by the government, and their patience will not last long, Ramtel warns.

“There is a limit to our tolerance,” Ramtel says. “We will misuse our skill of making gunpowder if the government turns a deaf ear toward our demands.”

But Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, former deputy prime minister and a leader of the Maoist party, says the former soldiers’ demands are taken seriously.

“We are having internal discussions in the government and the party,” he said in a phone interview. “We will soon address their demands.”

Ramtel says that, having spent their childhood and teenage years as child soldiers, they have no education or skill to earn a living now.

“We spent our childhood for the people’s war,” he says. “They cannot be allowed to abandon us.”

Sagar Ghimire translated this article from Nepali.

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