Sexual abuse, harassment and violence have become a way of life in Nepal's schools with security forces occupying their premises in the name of combating Maoist guerrillas, say child rights activists here.
Children as Zone of Peace, an umbrella of 36 rights organisations, says it has been urging the new government of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to withdraw security forces from all occupied schools but to no avail.
"Now there is a democratic government that says it is committed to peace and protecting human rights," says Kundan Aryal, president of the group. "Also, both the government and the Maoists called a ceasefire in April. But even two months after that, security forces still continue to run barracks on school premises."
"There are growing incidents of girl students in Class 9 and above being subjected to sexual abuse by the soldiers," says Tarak Dhital, whose NGO, Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN), is a member of the campaign.
"There are such reports from remote districts like Rukum, Salyan and Bajura, as well as Kathmandu. A recent incident involved a policeman posted in a barracks inside a school in Kathmandu marrying a minor student. It shows the spread of an unhealthy trend."
When the Maoist guerrillas started their People's War in February 1996 to abolish monarchy and turn Nepal into a communist republic, security forces began moving inside schools on the grounds they were the most secure places or were located in strategically important areas.
"If that is the case, we are asking the government to provide other locations so that the schools can shift there," says Aryal.
"We have written two letters to the new home and education ministries but so far no one has done anything."
Before both sides declared a truce in April, there were regular instances of schools turning into battlefields with students and teachers among the casualties.
Maoist guerrillas would hold indoctrination programmes in the schools, forcing the students and teachers to attend while security forces, learning about the plan, would launch an attack. In several incidents, security forces used helicopters to indiscriminately bomb such indoctrination camps, resulting in civilian casualties.
"Children should not be going to school fearfully," says Dhital. "Freedom from fear is one of the basic rights."
But though Nepal has signed several international agreements pledging to honour basic child rights, they are yet to be translated into action.
According to CWIN, 462 children were killed during the decade-old armed conflict and 524 injured. Besides, thousands of children have lost one or both parents and tens of thousands have been displaced. Hundreds have also been recruited by the rebels, who, however, deny that they have child soldiers.
"As there is a truce now, we are also asking both sides to release the children under their custody," says Aryal. "They should be allowed to return to their families and be reintegrated."
(Source: IANS News)