Police got at least 23 children out of Jamti village in Jharkhand’s Gumla district to a safe place after Maoists randomly picked them through lottery to swell the fighters’ ranks with child soldiers.
The police operation came after Hindustan Times highlighted on Monday how armed Maoist extremists were enlisting children for combat through public lotteries in select villages to replenish their dwindling numbers in the face of a relentless crackdown by security forces.
The children, including 13 girls, were on the Maoist recruitment list but saved at the nick of time before the rebels could take them away from their families. All of them are below 17 and will be rehabilitated at safer places in towns.
The Maoists used to abduct or force children to join them, while many signed up under pressure from peers or parents as the guerillas provided food, clothing, money and protection. They were usually trained to do low-risk tasks such as running errands and working on computers.
But the tide turned after allegations of sex abuse of young girls surfaced from the insurgent hideouts and teenage boys were forced to fight security forces.
The guerillas adopted the lottery route for recruitment as parents were not willing to give away their children for the Maoist cause.
“We pulled out the children who were constantly under threat of abduction by Maoists,” said Jharkhand police spokesperson and additional director general of police SN Pradhan.
He said relocating the children to safe places was the best solution since the Maoists were resorting to inhuman acts, frustrated by repeated defeats.
“The state police will take care of their food, clothing, education and shelter,” Pradhan said. “The girls will be enrolled in Kasturba Gandhi residential schools, where all everything is free for pupils.”
Children are often caught in the crossfire in the state where at least 16 of the 24 districts are affected by the Maoist menace. Also, several splinter outfits are fighting each other for extortion rights in mining firms and development projects.
Besides Maoists, the splinter groups recruit and engage children in conflict areas. Killing and maiming of children are rampant and their exploitation knows no bounds in areas under their control.
Sources in Jharkhand police headquarters said the state police brass took serious note of the HT report,
“Maoists pick children through lottery” published on Monday, and immediately sent a team led by DIG RK Dhan to Jamti village.
Eyewitnesses said villagers were happy to send their children with the police force.
“Children living under the shadow of the gun either become very shy and fearful or develop aggressive traits. I hope the rescued children will get a homely atmosphere away from their homes,” said Dr Neha Syed, associate professor of clinical psychology at Ranchi’s Central Institute of Psychiatry (CIP).