Children and Their Use in Armed Conflict in Chattisgarh, India
By Advait Praturi
“We are inevitably our brother’s keeper… whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The purpose of this brief is to examine the origins of the use of children in armed conflict in the southern districts of Dantewada and Bastar in Chhattisgarh, India due to the violence between Naxalites and government supported vigilante groups in the area. It will further examine the policies currently employed related to the issue and will provide policy options for the Indian central government who has been party to the conflict by supporting vigilante groups, which in turn have resorted to brutality and recruitment of children. The recruitment of children is in violation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol, which India has been party to since November 2005. Their employment in work harmful to their morals or health or life is likely to hamper their normal development and should be punishable by law. States should also set age limits below 18 to join the military and police force as Special Police Officers (SPOs), in accordance with CRC. Current policy has failed to address the root socio-economic factors such as disruption of education, police brutality, and lack of administration apart from these police. Policy recommendations aim towards an increase in military personnel, immediate stop to the support of vigilante groups, the immediate stop and prohibition of children in armed conflict, the reformation of education in the area for internally displaced children, reintegration and rehabilitation of children involved in armed conflict, codifying international human rights norms, and allowing for greater relief from both international and local NGOs in education and healthcare in order to help reduce costs that the central government may incur.
Statement: The Violation of the Rights of the Child
The rights of children in the southern districts of Dantewada and Bastar in Chhattisgarh have been violated by three parties: the Naxalite movement, which resorts to terrorist activities, the Salwa Judum, a vigilante anti-Naxalite group that has resorted to beatings and abductions, and the Indian government which supports the Salwa Judum as a paramilitary force. They have all resorted to the recruitment of children under the age of 18 for armed conflict. This violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the CRC, Article 2, and “States Parties shall ensure that persons who have not attained the age of 18 years are not compulsorily recruited into their armed forces.”1 These organizations have also prevented children from pursuing education in peace and security, violating article 28 of the CRC, “States Parties recognize the right of the child to education…”2 The purpose of this policy brief is to provide a concise background to the current Chhattisgarh conflict, to critique policies implemented currently by the central government, namely the Police Act of 1861, education policy, and use of unregulated paramilitary force in internal security policy. Policy recommendations will be aimed towards the central government and will provide a cost-benefit analysis for the calling of elimination of vigilantism, increase in military presence, reintegration and rehabilitation of children through policy reform, especially education, to ratify and codify the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention, amending the Child Labor Act of 1986 to include the ‘worst forms of Child Labor’, and to allow for greater international relief in the area.
Causes for the use of children in the conflict are socio-economic and include police brutality, lack of administration, and economic exploitation of tribal groups. The Naxalite movement originated because of “the exploitation of marginalized and vulnerable communities.”3 They began waging what they saw as a “people’s war”, but they have resorted to “forcibly re-distributing land, attacking police stations, destroying state infrastructure, assassinating politicians, and extorting businessmen.”4 Ultimately, the Naxalites argue that an amalgamation of political, economic and social factors including “economic exploitation of tribal communities, poor relations with the police and absence of government facilities and state institutions, contributed to the popular support of Naxalism…”5 Policy recommendations will address these socio-economic issues. Although the agenda of Naxalites remain wanting to improve these factors, they have used undemocratic and some cases terrorist activity including “extra-judicial killings, beatings and abductions.”6 In addition, the Naxalites have resorted to forced recruitment of children, The Naxalites typically pressure children and parents to join the Naxalite ranks, enrolling children as low as age 6-12, into bal sangams, village level Naxalite groups for children, where they learn Maoist ideology and fighting techniques. “I joined when I was 15 years old…they took me away…they said they wanted to train me…”7 Naxalites have used coercive tactics, to the point of destroying schools and abducting children, and “Given Naxalites’ brutal punishment of dissent or non-conformist behavior…a mere recruitment request to families create tremendous pressure on them…”8 After 12 years old, children are further recruited into armed militias, either through coercive persuasion of the child’s parents and punishment of non-conformist behavior.9
The Salwa Judum, meaning “purification hunt”, is seen as “the popular uprising” against Naxalite violence, created as an “operation organized right from its inception as part of the Indian administration’s anti-Naxalite counter-insurgency policy.”10 It began as a rebellion against Naxal violence by some tribals, who then went to the police for protection. The state government was “providing protection to the villagers, but it was too expensive, and so we supported the rebellion this time…it was better to support the Salwa Judum.”11 The government feels Salwa Judum was a success but does not see it as a sustainable force. Salwa Judum began to attack many schools because these schools provided Naxalites with food. Those children, whose schools were destroyed, were internally displaced to camps or schools set up by the Salwa Judum where they were recruited as SPOs as “protection for the camps.”12 They have not actively recruited since June 2007. Government forces have also come alongside the Salwa Judum equipping them and carrying out operations together, but the People Civil Liberties Union argues that due to state support, the Salwa Judum has taken advantage of its authority and has resorted to both brutality of tribals suspected of supporting Naxalites and torture of Naxalite recruited children.13 The general secretary of the Naxalites does not deny recruitment of children of their part but argues, “No one should be taken into the army without attaining 16 years of age…when Salwa Judum are using oppressive brutality…if the boys and girls do not resist, they will be eliminated completely.”14 Going on to contradict the state government’s view, the Indian central government “…now admits that Salwa Judum exacerbated the conflict and violence.”15 Therefore, policy recommendations will suggest how to deal with vigilantism and use of unregulated paramilitary force.
Therefore, the priority of causes for use of children in the Chhattisgarh include social factors such as deep mistrust between civilians and police, socio-economic factors such as interruption of education and abduction of children from schools, police and vigilante brutality due in part to Naxalite brutality, and lack of administration for the prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration of children participating in armed conflict. All these causes need to be addressed, and so policy criticism and recommendations are aimed towards the central government, which can address the roots of the issue by protecting children’s rights to education, security, and happiness, removing its association with violent groups, and cooperating with reasonable members from all parties, both locally, domestically, and perhaps internationally, to provide solutions for the rapid and efficient end to the current use of children in armed conflict in Chhattisgarh.
The Indian government has implemented several policies which have attempted to help, protect, and serve children who are underprivileged, attempting to give them a formal education to protect them from abused in use of armed conflict. However, in many of these areas of legislation and policy, the Indian central government has failed in handling the situation with discretion but has acted by blatantly supporting vigilante organizations that have compromised the integrity of a child’s right from armed conflict and to education. The government has even gone on to deny that such human rights violations do not exist, “In July 2008, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs denied as “absolutely false”…that underage SPOs were recruited by the Chhattisgarh police. This denial contradicts the Chhattisgarh police’s admissions…that they had recruited underage SPOs.”16 This section will critique the shortcomings of the Police Act of 1861, Indian education policy at the government and state level, and Article 355 of the Indian constitution and the use of unregulated paramilitary forces and vigilantism.
The Police Act of 1861 is still today governing the police force in India. In 1981, the Act “was alive in need for reform governing the police”17 to be replaced by the National Police Convention Model but no state has ratified the model. In context with the conflict in Chhattisgarh, the article that is called into question is Article 17, which states,
“When it shall appear that any unlawful assembly or disturbance of the peace has taken place…and that the police-force ordinarily employed for preserving the peace is not sufficient for its preservation and for the protection of the inhabitants and the security of property in the place where such unlawful assembly or riot or disturbance of the peace has occurred, or is apprehended, it shall be lawful for any police-officer not below the rank of Inspector…to appoint so many of the residents of the neighborhood…may require to act as special police-officers (SPO) for such time and within such limits as he shall deem necessary…”18
It goes on to say in Article 19 that should SPOs refuse to act as they are commanded, they must pay a fine. Article 17, nor anywhere in the Act for that matter, does it define an age limit as to when SPOs are called on. Therefore the Police Act must be amended to define an age limit. Also, “the list of offences includes willful breach…causing an unwarrantable violence to any person…holding out threats unwarranted by law…”19 The Police Act makes no scope for disciplinary penalties except for at most, eight days in prison and an extremely small fine.20 Disciplinary regulations must therefore be amended into the Act. The National Police Convention model increases the disciplinary penalties to the following, “out right dismissal, removal from service, reduction in rank, reduction in pay, withholding in increment and promotion.”21 A third principle that the Police Act has violated besides lack of age requirement, and lack of disciplinary penalties, is a lack of trust and transparency between the police force and public. Police have taken on a authoritarian-role making it a one sided affair, “A total of 1517 complaints were registered against Chhattisgarh Police in the year 2004”22 A study conducted by CHRI, a human rights initiative in the area, shows that they take advantage of tribal peoples and are actually unaware of the limitations placed on them by law.23 The Police Act of 1861 therefore is in dire need of reform, in line with the National Police Convention of 1981.
Education has proven to be a place of policy failure as well, in that 1) the Indian government has failed to protect the right of the child to education guaranteed by Article 28 of the CRC and 2) the state government such as Andhra Pradesh have not provided classes with respect to the language medium of internally displaced persons (IDP), which is not in accordance with Article 28(e) which states, “take measures to encourage regular attendance in schools”24 even if it means allowing for classes which teach in another language. The dropout rate in primary schools has been proved to be 53%.25 Human Rights Watch stated, “The conflict has severely impacted children’s access to education.”26 When the Salwa Judum formed, many schools stopped functioning due to the fact that “they used to abduct children and take them to the camp.”27 Even teachers were beaten as they were accused of providing food for Naxalite groups. Also the Indian National Commission for Protection of Children’s Rights (NCPCR) “has recommended to all parties that schools should be recognized as ‘zones of peace’.”28 However, the Salwa Judum has violated the child’s right to education by abduction and the police are in part responsible, “…it was found that in some cases police failed to even inquire whether applicants were at least age 18.”29 As far as the second failure, which concerns IDP access to education in Andhra Pradesh, “schools in Andhra teach in Telugu while schools in Chhattisgarh teach in Hindi,”30 and no classes are provided in Hindi medium for internally displaced children. The state government has fallen short of tackling language as an obstacle to education, and according to the CRC which guarantees every child with the right to education and to “take whatever measures necessary to do so”, the Andhra Pradesh state government has failed to provide a space for instruction in the Hindi language. Education, therefore, is another sector in which policy needs reform in Chhattisgarh.
The third policy failure in Chhattisgarh is internal security policy and the use of paramilitary force, based on Article 355 of the Indian Constitution, “It shall be the duty of the Union to protect every State against…internal disturbance and to ensure that the government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”31 Generally, in order to decrease military presence, the Indian government sanctions the use of village defense committees (VDCs) in armed conflict, “The statutory basis for the establishment and development of all these paramilitary forces is found in Article 355 of the Indian Constitution.”32 In order to fight the Naxalites on all fronts, the central government has resorted to using villages to fight the battles, offering “Rs. 200,000 for their formation.”33 The issue is not the use of paramilitary force, as paramilitary forces such as the National Security Guard have proven effective in such conflicts, but there is no regulation or provision for paramilitary village or civilian forces in the Constitution with the exception of an informal statute. K.P Misra writes, “The Government of India may deploy…any force subject to the control of the Union for dealing with any grave situation of law and order in any state.”34 However, how would the government make sure such civilian forces are “subject to the control of the union”? Since 1980, the role of paramilitary forces is growing, and “India’s Paramilitary Forces (PMF) have become a huge and unwieldy force…”35 These paramilitary forces are also given authority to use force if necessary, “SPOs perform the roles of paramilitary force while on such operations, and execute orders to kill or beat captured suspected Naxalites…Many SPOs…including children…have died during such armed exchanges…”36 further defining the need for regulation. In Dantewada district in southern Chhattisgarh, “the duty of maintaining law has passed on to Salwa Judum activists.”37 Children have as auxiliaries or SPOs assisted government operatives in combing operations, some as young as 14 years old. The failure of internal security of policy lies not in the issue of paramilitary forces, which can be beneficial such as with the presence of the National Security Guard, which has played a role in other areas, but lies in the lack of regulation for the growing force that does not define age limits, purpose, vision, and necessity. It is important to create legislation that regulates paramilitary force.
Therefore, legislation needs to be implemented and policies enforced for the benefit of the children that are caught in the crossfire of armed conflict. Policies must be designed to protect children from abuse, both from government/security forces such as the police and vigilante groups like the Salwa Judum that act like paramilitary forces and the Naxalite Maoists. It is much more difficult to regulate the activities of the Naxalites as they have taken an uncooperative and more violent stance against the central government, but it is important in the interests of the children involved to set up rules of engagement involving school as “zones of peace” as defined by the National Commission for Protection of Children’s Rights. Also policies must be centered on protecting the right of the child to education, welfare, and security. This section will aim to provide a cost-benefit analysis for three policy recommendations: 1) The elimination of Salwa Judum as a vigilante organization 2) A rehabilitation scheme to identify children used as SPOs or in Naxalite Dalams and to reintroduce them into the system by guaranteeing primary education and 3) the codification of legislation and ratification of certain international human rights treaties.
The elimination of Salwa Judum and other vigilante groups and increase in military presence is vital to the end of the current conflict. The Naxalite movement very much finds its acceptance as a result of brutality of government police forces, and it is evident that the formation of the Salwa Judum in 2005 has escalated and exacerbated conflict rather than end it. Article 355 of the Constitution should be amended to redefine the regulation of paramilitary forces including age limits, purpose and use, and vigilantism must be outlawed. The Indian government should counterbalance the elimination of the force by providing more military personnel into the area in addition to the “10,000 government security forces, including the Indian Reserve Battalions and Central Reserve Police Force.”38 The costs of the elimination of Salwa Judum are that it may lead to instability in the Dantewada district of southern Chattisgarh, where the Indian central government has delegated much of the responsibility to this vigilante group. In addition, another cost would be causing anger and resentment from the Salwa Judum, which may just turn into a renegade vigilante group. The third cost of eliminating Salwa Judum operations would be a need for increased military presence, in the area of Dantewada district especially. Raju Thomas who analyzes Indian security policy addresses three of the effects of increased military pressure,
“To use the armed forces against their own people would produce a breakdown in military-civilian trust…the armed services are not equipped to handle issues of internal law and order…there will be a breakdown in training in case of external security emergency…and the use of paramilitary force is inevitable even if undesirable.”39
However, benefits include that the likelihood of children recruited for armed conflict will significantly decrease, primarily if military personnel are used to protect schools against aggressors. Much of why the Naxalites attack schools is due to the fact that Salwa Judum recruit children from these schools and/or convert these schools into “government-run Salwa Judum camps.”40 The second benefit of military presence would be stability provided that the military does not violate the Optional Protocol by recruiting any person under 18. Although operational costs may be larger in the short run, the long term benefits of stability may be worth the cost, and the Rs. 200,000 that goes to funding village defense committees can be used to address socio-economic factors that the Naxalite movement is pushing for, which should promote avenues for negotiation and multiparty talks. Also to deal with anger or resentment, the central government’s provision of personnel to protect schools and villages may decrease the desire for vigilante groups, but unavoidably, a small minority of militant leaders will remain, which is, to quote Raju Thomas, “inevitable even if undesirable.” To address Thomas’ description of increased military cost, should the military cooperate with civilians to address socio-economic factors, it will lead to increased trust, workshops and classes can train soldiers in handling internal law and order in times of emergency, and the deployment of an extra 5000-10000 personnel, especially during this time of elections in Chhattisgarh, will not cause a “breakdown of training” in a 231,161,111 strong army.41 Therefore, the elimination of Salwa Judum and vigilantism and an increase in military personnel is both beneficial and necessary to the resolution of the conflict.
The second policy option is prevention of children in armed conflict through the proper implementation of the Registration for Births and Deaths Act of 1969, reintegration of recruited children and rehabilitation through education policy reform. According to Article 3.12 of the Paris Principles, “formal disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) processes, special provision should be made for children.”42 First, the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 must be implemented and enforced to make sure that all births are accounted for in the state. According to a health report sponsored by UNICEF, “Chhattisgarh reported 55.8% birth registrations of…and the police based system may be hindering the process of birth registration due to the nature of relationships between police and civil society.”43 The report goes on to suggest the Panchayat or village elder systems reporting to the police as a much more viable solution to make sure all births are accounted for. Having made sure all children have proof of birth, the next step is to identify those children who are currently recruited by army groups or police. “Chhattisgarh police have not actively recruited new SPOs since March 2006.”44 Therefore, of the 3500-3600 current SPOs, a system must be set up to take a census and make sure any child under 18 years of age is withdrawn and reintegrated into a education or fair work system. The next step is to end mistreatment and torture of children recruited by Naxalites, “government forces have detained and tortured children…and have failed to develop a scheme for the identification, rescue, demobilization and rehabilitation of child Naxalites.”45 It is important to set up a civilian office that can check police brutality and to whom security forces and police can be accountable; this can also go a long way to building military-civilian trust. A challenge would be that creating a new level of bureaucracy can be constricting to operations, but the benefit of increased civilian-military trust exceeds the administrative cost. The most important step is to create a system of rehabilitation, “Police…could not assist ‘rescued’ Naxalite recruited children as the government had no scheme to rehabilitate and protect such children. They were sent back even though they knew…they would be re-recruited or killed.”46 Rehabilitation must also be in line with Article 5 of the Paris Principle, which calls states to acknowledge that they are “internally displaced as a threat of recruitment against these children.”47 In accordance, state governments such as that of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Orissa to which IDPs are displaced, must make an effort to acknowledge and protect their rights to security, protection and education. One major way to do so is to implement classes in IDP camps that teach children in their own language medium as well as implementing education “to all displaced children living in camps and for children who return to villages.”48 The challenges to all these policies are the financial costs as well as time costs due to demobilization and movement. Government forces should avoid using schools as bases or camps and must protect schools in session, damaged schools must be restored and protected, and “contact must be facilitated between parents and children.”49 Another possible way to overcome the financial cost of implementing new language programs in neighboring states is expanding bridge courses that help diminish the cost of miscommunication by “making special provisions for children who do not speak the local language of instruction.”50 Schools should also provide counseling and psychiatric care for internally displaced children and their families as is deemed necessary by the child’s needs. Rescue, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation through education policy reform are extremely important steps in helping internally displaced children come out of armed conflict crossfire. Poverty reduction starts with investing in children’s rights and well-being.
The third and last policy option is the implementation and codification of the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention to protect the rights of children in armed conflict and to allow a greater international relief effort into the area to diminish many of the financial and human capital costs. Apart from the Optional Protocol which India ratified on November 2005, there is no significant legislation that India has adopted towards its labor policy towards the use of children in armed conflict. India should ratify the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention, which states in Article 3 as unlawful, “…forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.”51 And after ratifying the convention, India should amend the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, redefining it to include children used in slavery and armed conflict as the ‘worst form of child labor’. ‘Armed conflict’ should be added to Schedule A occupations which pose a moral, economic, cultural and social impairment on the child, along with such occupations as “handling of toxic or inflammable substances and use of mines.”52 The cost of this action is not that India disagrees with the convention, but that it has difficulties agreeing with Article 3(d), “work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.”53 The Indian government feels this definition is “ambiguous and vague in definition”54 Therefore, a report is to be brought forward to the Labor Ministry, which the international community must push for, that will define what hazardous occupations are. Jan Goldsmith argues that a cost of ratification of human rights law is that “if it becomes clearer and more specific, the likely outcome would not be greater compliance but rather more violations…and that most human rights practices are explained by coercion or coincidence of interests…”55 The idea is the more specific it is, the more human rights violations will be visible, and that most human rights laws are ratified as a result of another state forcing another through imposition of sanctions and so on or because it was in the interests of the state anyways to cooperate in that area. Article 3(a-b) ‘coincides with the interests’ of the Indian government but Article 3(d) does not. However, it is in the interests of the Indian government concerning the conflict of Chhattisgarh to protect the right to education and security of children as it would unlock intellectual property that would benefit the state and nation in the long run. The most beneficial way to do so is to codify the WFCLF into the Child Labor Act of 1986, which would lead to creating other amendments and legislation, such as amending the Police Act of 1861 mentioned earlier, and these actions would facilitate greater international cooperation as well as building India’s international reputation as a power that cares for human rights. Sustained international pressure may eventually cause the Indian government to reconsider its policies concerning how it is handling the conflict in Chhattisgarh, and should the government allow foreign aid and mercy organizations to provide educational and healthcare needs in Chhattisgarh, it would help reduce the financial and human/time costs mentioned earlier. The biggest cost of such an action would be that the Indian government would be agreeing to human rights violations as it has already denied committing any violations.56 The benefit would be greater moral leverage on the Salwa Judum and the Naxalites to comply with international human rights law and the ultimate strengthening of the tribal adivasi groups as they realize they are supported by the greater global human rights polity, which is the “boomerang effect” put forward by Risse and Sikkink.57 Therefore, the ultimate long term benefits of implementing and codifying international human rights law as well as allowing for greater participation of international organizations in empowering children and local tribals will ultimately lead to unlocking previously untouched intellectual capital which will in due course pay the costs.
Therefore the policy options suggested include stopping support for the Salwa Judum vigilante campaign, which the Indian government has done until this point, re-amending the Police Act of 1861 to follow the National Police Convention model of 1971, to facilitate better trust between civilians and police, to increase military personnel to decrease chances of brutality and to protect villages and schools, to prevent the use of children in armed conflict by providing a system for identification such as with the implementation of the Birth and Death Registration Act of 1969, to facilitate demobilization and reintegration by creating a system to identify recruited children that are SPOs or in the Naxalite ranks, to legislate rehabilitation by providing education through protection of children in schools, reinstitution of damaged schools and by providing bridge courses across language mediums, to codify international law by ratifying the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention and implementing it into the Child Labor Prevention Act of 1986, re-amending other legislation to protect the rights of children against recruitment if they are under 18, and to provide avenues for international relief in education. These policies should all address the root causes of lack of administration in education and for civil rights, social mistrust between the tribal groups and the government and police forces, and lack of education for children who are abducted or recruited. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have education.”58 If we are to triumph over these obstacles, we also must have this audacity; the audacity to believe that children are the first step towards poverty reduction and for systems change. It is our responsibility, as “our brother’s keeper”, to push for the rights and protection of children, and to invest in the hope that they can bring for overcoming challenges we face as an international community.