Lost Childhood: Caught in armed violence in Jharkhand

'I grew up in the organisation learning language, science, mathematics and Mao’s ideology. Soon I learnt computers and began typing press releases, revolutionary poems, revolutionary messages for posters and banners. As I crossed age 12, I was given a chance to choose the weapon I would like to train. I preferred INSAS [automatic] rifles and carbines.'

This 17-year-old girl had already spent over a decade in one of several left wing armed groups operating across ten states in central India when Child Soldiers International and HAQ: Centre for Child Rights (HAQ CRC) interviewed her in the Indian state of Jharkhand in August 2015. She had run away after an altercation with one of her superiors who suspected that she had been communicating with police informers. Terrified that she or her family would face reprisals from the group, she was in hiding at the time of the interview.

Her story is far from unique. Many children like her have been drawn into the so-called ‘people’s war’ being waged by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) (CPI (Maoist)) and a number of other left wing armed groups broadly referred to by the Indian government as “Left Wing Extremists” (LWE). The Maoists espouse an emancipatory ideology, claiming to defend the rights of historically poor and marginalised communities, including Dalits and Adivasis, and engage in guerilla warfare aimed at overthrowing the state. The Indian government has officially designated a number of these groups as terrorist organisations under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, and over decades has deployed large numbers of security forces in counter-insurgency operations against them.

Acute poverty, discrimination, exploitation, corruption and a lack of safe access to education, health and social welfare has characterised the lives of communities in many areas of rural India, helping left wing armed groups fuel hostility towards the state. In turn, security forces engaged in counter-insurgency operations have been accused of a range of human rights abuses including arbitrary arrest and torture of villagers suspected of supporting left wing armed groups, which has only exacerbated the situation.

This report draws on research conducted in the state of Jharkhand between April and December 2015, where the CPI (Maoist) is the dominant left wing armed group in many districts, but where a number of others, including the People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI) also operate. Child Soldiers International and HAQ CRC documented 40 cases of children recruited by the CPI (Maoist) in Jharkhand from July 2014 until December 2015. In addition, we documented six cases of girl child soldiers being raped and sexually abused by CPI (Maoist) cadre in 2015. Our research found that left wing armed groups in Jharkhand are responsible for the following grave violations against children: killing and maiming, recruitment and use as soldiers, abduction, sexual violence and attacks on schools. These constitute five of the ‘six grave violations’ against children in armed conflict, identified by the UN Security Council as requiring priority attention to ensure the protection of children during war.

Download this report here in English and Hindi.

In addition, Child Soldiers International and local partners HAQ CRC produced an accompanying booklet, containing information on the relevant legal framework applicable in India. The booklet, Protection of Children in India: National and International Laws, is intended as a resource for government officials, civil society organisations, researchers and interested members of the public in Jharkhand and other areas of India where children are affected by armed violence.

Download booklet (English)