For days, Garima Devi has not let her son to go play with her neighbours nor to attend her classes in school. Garima is not the lone parent depriving her child of friends and education.
The last two months have seen the most horrendous rate of children-targeted kidnapping in Manipur. Located at the northeastern tip of India, bordering countries such as Burma and Bangladesh, Manipur has been the site of a long-standing conflict that appears to have been effaced in India's official memory. Since the merger agreement with the mainland in 1949, various insurgency groups have been formed, some with the vision of an independent Manipur.
In an apparent bid to fortify its ranks, some insurgency groups have resorted to kidnapping as a means of recruiting teenage kids into their armies. According to Sobita Mangsatabam, Secretary of Women Action for Development (WAD) based in the state capital Imphal, about two dozen children have been forcefully separated from their families in the last few months alone.
“The kidnapping of children for ransom and trafficking [in the context of] arm[ed] conflict is becoming a common phenomenon in the state for the last one decade. But very disappointingly, such kind of nefarious crimes, in past few months has escalating dramatically. Since March of this year there are more than two dozen cases of child trafficking by the militant outfit in Manipur for using in arms conflict and out of fear and threat from the outfit, most of the cases go unreported.”
One insurgent group being blamed for the spate of kidnappings, the People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak, denied such allegations and insisted that the children came to the camps voluntarily. To prove this, the group surfaced a 13 year-old boy named Akoijam Ajay and allowed him to talk to the media. “I joined the party willingly. I am joining the struggle to put an end to the sufferings of the people caused by excesses committed by security forces.”
On June 20, 2008, two mothers braved the PREPAK camp and sought for their missing children. Although the children managed to escape that same night, their mothers Phurailatpam Premi Devi and Kshetrimayum Purmina have been held by the rebels.
While there has been so much distrust towards Indian authorities, Manipur residents have become even more indignant over these kidnapping incidents, which have fueled more fear and tension in the almost forgotten region. A wave of protest has been staged in and around Imphal, participated by parents, teachers, students, and women in the past week alone. Protesters called for the cessation of kidnapping incidents, which have placed children in grave danger, including physical and sexual abuse. The government has also established an all women watchdog.
After the procession that converged at the Manipur Dramatic Union, a meeting was held and attended by human rights advocates and other concerned citizens. At the end, a charter was adopted, demanding the immediate release of the children in militant custody and an end for child abuses which are sanctioned by state forces.
Although India ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, it is not yet a party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, commonly referred to as the “Child Soldiers Treaty.”
Datta, Tanya. (8 August 2007). “India's 'forgotten' war.” URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/crossing_continents/6935673.stm
E-mail correspondence with Ms. Sombita Mangsatabam, Secretary of Women Action for Development (WAD).
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights. (2004). “Status of Ratifications of the Principal International Human Rights Treaties.” URL: http://www.unhchr.ch/pdf/report.pdf
Samom, Sobhapati. (24 July 2008). “Manipur students protest against kidnapping of children.” URL: http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/details.asp?id=jul2508/ne4
Sangai Express. (20 July 2008). “Moms' rescue bid fails, held captive.” (copytext)
Thaiindian News. (20 July 2008). “Child soldiers assuming dangerous proportions in Manipur.” URL: http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/world-news/child-soldiers-assuming-dangerous-proportions-in-manipur_10073666.html
The Telegraph. (21 July 2008). “Women’s army to foil kidnap - Force to comprise members between 18 and 30 years of age.” URL: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1080722/jsp/northeast/story_9582504.jsp
Thokchom, Khelen. (19 July 2008). “Rebels line up six kids - Prepak denies abductions.” URL: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1080720/jsp/northeast/story_9572857.jsp