MANIPUR: The abduction of children to serve as child militants has parents living in fear.in Imphal
THE abduction and conscription of children, some of them as young as 11 years old, by some underground organisations has reached alarming proportions in Manipur. Between May 1 and July 20, more than 25 minor boys and girls were reported missing. The abducted children are non-tribal Manipuris, or Meitis. Fear has gripped parents as school-going children are lured and whisked away by the agents of the militant outfits. Almost every day reports come in from the districts about attempts to kidnap children so much so that there are widespread demonstrations and sit-in protests against the new wave of crime.
In order to quell the public anger, members of a rebel organisation involved in the controversy took some journalists in mid-July to their training camp located in an unnamed place in the State. They produced five boys and a girl, who had been reported to be missing, before the presspersons. The children dressed in combat fatigues were undergoing military training. The girl spoke to the camera saying that she joined the camp on her own free will and was not coerced into leaving her home. Her frail mother, who had taken ill since she went missing, is hospitalised. Women activists have appealed to the militants to release the girl in order to save the mother.
Reacting to the childrens televised media interview at the camp, the Director-General of Police, Yumnam Joykumar, dismissed the claim that they had not been abducted as the persons arrested on the charge of luring minor children for handing them over to militants had confessed to the contrary. As regards the statements by some child soldiers that they had gone away on their own, he said they appeared to be stage-managed. From their body language and the furtive glances they threw when they spoke to the press it was clear that the children were merely parroting what they had been taught to say, he observed.
Above all, children who had escaped from the custody of the militants told journalists that they had been kidnapped at gunpoint.
Joykumar attributes the abduction of minor children to the refusal of young people to join the underground movement in view of the reprehensible crimes the militants commit.
There has been all-round condemnation of the recruitment of children to serve as soldiers, and impassioned appeals have been made to set them free. In response to the agitations, some militants reportedly told the crestfallen family members that their children would return after training to seek their blessings. One militant outfit released four children saying that it honoured international conventions relating to child soldiers. Some civil organisations are unhappy that the major underground organisations are maintaining silence over the abductions. There are some 39 rebel groups in the State.
The DGP told Frontline that special cells had been created in all the district police headquarters to deal with incidents of kidnapping. The police, he said, checked all buses and private vehicles to ensure that the children found in these vehicles were travelling with their family members, and in case of suspicion the police had been authorised to detain the suspects.
He said parents had been asked to inform the nearest police station whenever their children failed to return home on time. Most of the parents told Frontline that they did not report to the police because the militants had told them that their sons and daughters would be sent back in 40 days.
They were also advised not to organise agitations or seek support to trace the children. They learnt belatedly that the militants bought time only to move the children to the training camps located at far-off places.
Even as the controversy raged, two child soldiers, P. Naoton, 15, and K. Naobi, 12, deserted the militant camp. Naoton sent a message to his parents asking them to take him home since he could no longer bear the harsh underground life. When his mother, P. Premi, went to fetch him from a village he had reached, another boy tagged along. Since the mother of this boy had to be summoned, their departure was delayed. The following day, when they were about to board a bus, they were intercepted by two militants. On seeing them the two child soldiers fled. The militants detained the mothers and issued a statement to the effect that they would be released if either the father or elder brothers of the boys came to fetch them.
Womens organisations staged demonstrations demanding the immediate release of the two mothers. The activists did not agree to the condition set by the militants. The militants responded by producing the two mothers before the press.
A spokesman of the outfit said that the mothers had not been kidnapped or detained; they only stayed back to sort out a problem. He said that the two cadre had deserted the camp with weapons. Rejecting the suggestion that they were child soldiers, he said Naobi was 18 years old and he had fled after stealing an AK-56 rifle with two magazines having 100 rounds of ammunition and a wireless set.
Naoton, 20, had stolen one M 79 lethod gun and 10 bombs, he said. This was a serious crime and heavy penalties had been awarded in the past for such crimes, he said. The mothers were asked to establish contact with the boys so that the matter could be settled. But on seeing the two scooter-borne cadre the youth had fled, the outfit claimed. The mothers said that in view of the seriousness of the situation they were staying back. They urged the women activists not to launch agitations. There has been no further demonstrations relating to the mothers.
Meanwhile, R.K. Sanayaima, chairman of the United National Liberation Front, issued general guidelines to the organisations rank and file. The cadre have been told not to recruit children below the age of 18 and refrain from using intoxicants and accepting costly gifts.
On July 11, Y. Lunchenba, a student from Kolkata who was visiting Imphal on a short holiday, had a brief encounter with militants. He was taking tuitions in Hindi from a teacher living in a residential area outside the city. Security measures had been beefed up on an unprecedented scale in Imphal on that day.
As the boy was walking down to the teachers house, two men accosted him and when he tried to escape, he was restrained at gunpoint. They took him to a residential area without causing any suspicion in the police and the paramilitary troops. The militants detained him in a house under construction for over an hour. The boy found his moment to escape when they went to an upper floor of the building to speak on their mobile phones.
After taking directions from passers-by, he reached home late in the night. The police have not arrested the kidnappers, nor have they sought the boys help to locate the house.Leishangthem Bipindra, a student of Class VIII, was dragged out of his rented room and beaten up one night. However, when one of the militants was talking to an accomplice on the phone asking him to bring a car, he bit the hand of another, who was in charge of him, and fled.
Not all children are that lucky. N. Golshun, 11, has joined an underground organisation. He left a note for his mother saying that he was going outside Manipur for higher studies and that he would be back in 10 years. His weeping mother is sure the letter was dictated to the boy by someone. She says the letter does not say who is financing his studies and why. Later she learnt that he was in a training camp.
Seminars, demonstrations and sit-in protests have been organised throughout the State to demand the release of the kidnapped children. Women have formed an organisation to combat the new menace. The police arrested three youth on the charge that they lured children. But in the absence of evidence, they were released on bail. Until some drastic measures are adopted to contain the crime, Manipurs children will need chaperones.