Countries Asia India: Make protection of children a priority London, 11 October 2013—The Indian government should immediately take measures to end the involvement of children in situations of armed conflicts or protracted armed violence in India, Child Soldiers International said today. As the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child meets in pre-session to begin the review of India’s initial report on measures taken to implement the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC), the organisation urged the Indian government to conduct systematic investigations into reports of underage recruitment, hold perpetrators accountable and take measures to prevent and end the association of children in armed groups and state forces in India. Based on its research, Child Soldiers International has serious concerns about the lack of effective age verification measures in place during recruitment in state armed forces, including paramilitaries, police forces and village defence militias. “This is particularly problematic given the low rate of birth registration in the country. The absence of uniformity in recruitment processes and minimum age for police forces in different states in India has also created conditions which have led to underage recruitment,” said Richard Clarke, Director of Child Soldiers International. Child Soldiers International has particular concerns related to the risk of recruitment of children in the ranks of the Special Police Officers (SPOs) who have been used in counter-insurgency operations in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Village defence militias, village guards and SPOs have also been deployed in Maharashtra, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura and Jammu & Kashmir. Regulations for the appointment of SPOs do not specify minimum age. Further, the Indian Penal Code does not explicitly criminalise the recruitment or use in hostilities of persons under-18 years. There is credible evidence that children have been recruited by armed groups in the states of Jammu & Kashmir, areas affected by Naxal violence and the north-eastern states of Manipur and Meghalaya and used by them in a variety of roles. “The Indian government needs to ensure that child protection organisations are provided immediate access to areas where children may be recruited or used so that all possible steps can be taken for their recovery,” added Clarke. OPAC requires states parties to prevent unlawful recruitment of children in their territory and to effectively investigate credible reports of its occurrence. Specifically, Child Soldiers International recommended that the government of India: • Ensure that the minimum age for membership to armed forces, paramilitaries, police forces and village defence militias is explicitly set by law at 18 years or above and that effective age verification procedures are applied at the point of recruitment.• Explicitly criminalise in law the unlawful recruitment of children or their use in hostilities by state armed forces, paramilitaries, police forces, village defence militias, and non-state armed groups.• Amend the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Jammu & Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA) and other emergency legislation to explicitly prohibit the detention of children under these laws. Issue a military order to ensure all military personnel are aware of this prohibition.• Take all necessary measures to prevent the recruitment of children by armed opposition groups in Jammu & Kashmir, areas affected by “Naxal violence” and Northeast India, including by undertaking a comprehensive assessment of the extent and causes of children’s involvement in such groups. Background This week, the Committee on the Rights of the Child met in pre-session to begin the review of India’s initial report on the implementation of OPAC. Next year [between May-June 2014] India will present the OPAC report at a public session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva. Child Soldiers International conducted remote research on the association of children with armed forces and groups in India from April till July 2013, the results of which have been submitted to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in the form of a shadow report.