Hundreds of former Nepali child soldiers were arrested Tuesday after they blockaded the headquarters of their former party in protest, thrusting themselves into political spotlight 10 years after the end of war.
On Monday afternoon, around 300 young men and women who had once been recruited by Maoist rebels to fight state security forces, marched into the hilltop headquarters of the ruling Maoist party.
They locked the entrance to the three-story building, only allowing in the media, as dozens of security forces guarded the offices from outside.
After a sleepless night with little foot, they found themselves surrounded by security forces on Tuesday morning, who pushed them into waiting trucks, said Bhim Bahadur Tamang, a former Maoist child soldier.
Pradyumna Karki, a police spokesman, confirmed that 144 former child soldiers were arrested and were in custody in four locations in the capital Kathmandu.
“Around 100 to 1,200 policemen came in the morning. We urged our members to follow the order to prevent clashes. But women with babies were dragged into the police truck,” said Tamang, a 27-year-old who travelled for days from his rural home in eastern Nepal to protest in Kathmandu.
As the war intensified in the rural hills of Nepal in the early and mid-2000s, the Maoists recruited minors to fill the ranks, with the number reaching at least 4,000 in 2006, when the war ended after a peace deal.
In early 2007, the party sent 32,250 former Maoist fighters to United Nations-run camps across the country. A U.N. verification, however, found that only 19,000 were eligible for rehabilitation programs and deemed the group of 4,000 late recruits or under age.
Hundreds of former child soldiers have set up the Discharged Former People’s Liberation Army Struggle Committee to fight for their rights.
Many say they are still struggling to find a foothold in post-war Nepal. Tamang said they were stepping up their campaign in a bid to force the Maoist government to address their grievances.
“We want the government to find a durable solution to our problem. Our senior comrades either received financial packages or were integrated into the army. But we were left with nothing,” Tamang said, pointing out that many were having to work difficult jobs to pay medical bills. “They must be provided with free medical treatment.”
The committee has pressed for a series of demands including an end to being identified as "disqualified" and an acknowledgment for roles they played in turning Nepal from a Hindu monarchy to a secular republic.
“We hope that the children of today or tomorrow wouldn’t have to fight the war as minors. Recruiting child soldiers is a crime, so we want this message to come across,” he said.
Pampha Bhusal, a Maoist spokeswoman, told The Kathmandu Post on Tuesday that a writ petition filed at Nepal’s Supreme Court prevented the government from handing out 200,000 rupees ($1,873) to each former child soldier.