Guidelines soon to stem child abuse in conflict zones

(Dec 10 is World Human Rights Day)

By Prathiba Raju, IANS,

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New Delhi : Children are the worst sufferers in Maoist-hit conflict zones with many landing behind bars for being accomplices in civil strife or armed conflict. Child rights body National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) is drawing up a set of guidelines for the police and the armed forces on how to deal with such children, says its head, Shanta Sinha.

“There are many districts in the country which are affected by civil strife and there is a strong presence of armed, paramilitary and the police (in these areas). Children are the worst sufferers in such areas as they not only witness violence but either face direct violence or their families undergo it,” Sinha said in an interview with IANS.

“In many cases children are handcuffed, they are put into jails, they are not taken to juvenile homes,” she added.

After learning about a number of such cases, the commission decided to draw up a set of standard operating protocol for the armed as well as police forces on how to deal with children in such situations. Sinha, who is serving her second term as the commission head, said the guidelines for the armed forces will focus on how children who are accomplices in civil strife and armed conflict should be treated.

“The commission will specify how the police should treat such children. We have learnt that they are treated as offenders,” she said.

Sinha said the armed forces are not aware about how to deal with children who are caught for being accomplices.

“In many cases children are put in jail; they are presented in court instead of before a juvenile justice board. What we are trying to do is to examine the situation, to see what kind of procedure can be adopted,” Sinha, a Magsaysay Award winner, told IANS.

The commission had recently identified three juveniles in Idinthakarai village in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district. The juveniles, who were participating in a peaceful protest against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP), were arrested by the police.

They were booked under the serious charges of waging war against the nation and sedition.

Sinha, a well-known social worker who has also won a Padma Shri, said the commission is trying to study the various practices adopted by other countries during such conflicts and what kind of protocol they have adopted, before it comes out with its set of guidelines.

“Currently, in the commission we are studying the global practices on the issue. For example, there has been the Beijing rule, Paris principle and the other international guidelines on how to deal with these kinds of children in conflict zones. We are studying them, we are trying to see what kind of protocol one has to adopt in the best interest of children,” Sinha said.

According to Unicef, the Paris principle consolidates global humanitarian knowledge and experience in working to protect children, supports their release from the armed forces or armed groups and helps them reintegrate into civilian life.

The commission will specify how to deal with such children.

“These children are not supposed to be treated as offenders but as victims of circumstances, and they should be given a second chance in society and family. These children should be given proper rehabilitation and justice. We should ensure that they actively participate when they come in contact with law,” she said.

Sinha is a founder Secretary Trustee of MV foundation, a registered trust in Andhra Pradesh, which has rescued over 400,000 child laborers and put them into school.

(Prathiba Raju can be contacted at [email protected])