School kids in Maoist rally trigger Nepal outrage
Nepal's Maoist guerrillas made hundreds of school children attend their rally at the heart of the capital, triggering public outrage.Updated: Sep 19, 2006 14:24 IST
In an unprecedented flexing of muscles and flouting of international norms, Nepal's Maoist guerrillas made hundreds of school children attend their rally at the heart of the capital, triggering widespread public outrage.
Students as young as 10-year-old were made to wear red caps with the rebels' party symbol and red bandannas and listen to guerrilla leaders' propaganda for nearly five hours under the scorching sun on Monday.
The rally was held at a public park in the capital, a stone's throw away from parliament, the prime minister's office and the army headquarters.
The militant student wing of the Maoists, the All Nepal National Independent Students' Union (Revolutionary), celebrated its 17th convention with fanfare.
It had remained underground since 2003, when the then government of Nepal banned it as a terrorist organisation.
Another student organisation, affiliated to the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist - the second largest party in the ruling coalition-, also held its convention in southern Nepal.
The simmering rivalry between the two student outfits resulted in the Maoists bearing extraordinary pressure on schools in and around Kathmandu valley to send students to their rally.
Though most of the private schools in the valley remained closed Monday for fear the rebels might shanghai students from the classrooms, they still could not shake off the rebel pressure.
Several schools, including the Modern Indian School run by Indians, were forced to let school buses be used for ferrying participants to the rally.
Media reports said the rebel student union had sent circulars to Kathmandu schools, asking them to send at least 50 students each to the programme.
The park was a sea of red and blue as hundreds of school children in their blue uniform wavered between listening to Maoist leaders ranting against "US imperialism" and "Indian expansionism" and a volleyball match going on in the adjacent field and hundreds of red flags waved in the air.
When the government was at war with the Maoists there had been frequent reports about the guerrillas forcing students in hundreds to attend indoctrination camps in the remote districts where security forces were not present.
This is the first time it happened on such a massive scale in the capital.
The government remained silent but rights organisations flayed the assault on schools.
Children as a Zone of Peace, an alliance of child rights organisations, said using children in a show of power was against the UN Convention on child rights.
The National Human Rights Commission, Nepal's apex rights body, said the rebels' student programme had disrupted classes in the majority of valley schools.
Expressing concern at using children in political programmes, the commission said schools should be regarded as "zones of peace".
Earlier this month, the Unicef and Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal had also expressed grave concern at the presence of children in political demonstrations, which often turned violent.
Nepal's rights organisations have also documented the presence of child soldiers in the Maoists' guerrilla army though the rebels say the children have joined voluntarily and are not used in armed combat.
First Published: Sep 19, 2006 13:47 IST