India as a nation is facing a new problem concerning its children- emergence of children as soldiers in strife -torn states of Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, AndhraPradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland and Assam. They are getting drawn into fighting both with rebel groups as well as security forces. What was considered a problem in African countries of Sudan, Sierra Leone and other countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal has become a reality for India too.
According to human right activists the actual number of children recruited by state or non state groups as soldiers is not as obvious as in other countries but we know there is an increasing number of children being drawn into active combat.These children exposed to war and conflict are one of the most vulnerable groups often forced to witness or perpetrate combat atrocities. They are scarred for life, their childhood shattered.
A UNICEF estimate says about 2.50 lakhs children have been recruited as soldiers in various capacities worldwide. In India no such studies have been done to document the life of these child soldiers. The main reasons the children take to guns being extreme poverty and they see rebels leading well-off lives. To them joining the rebels seems like an opportunity to get out of their misery. When the child soldier learns the tricks of the trade and starts getting money, the parents also enjoy a better life style. While the government doesn't give enough support and compensation for victims, rebel groups step in to act as guardians.
According to the government officials there is no government policy or official guideline about what to do with child soldiers picked up during raids or encounters. Though they are returned to their parents there is no guarantee they will not be picked up by the rebels again. There is no direction for their rehabilitation.
The NGO workers believe the government needs to network with village bodies and activists for holistic development that reaches the interiors. Development of traditional skills and emphasis on natural resource management is essential with improved infrastructure like roads etc.