Former child soldier Sita Tamang’s powerful testimony at the Security Council focused the world’s attention on Nepal’s Maoists
Sita Tamang, a former child soldier, was excited to go to New York. But the journey she embarked on last month was less to visit the country she had heard so much about since her childhood than it was to fulfill a historic mission.
Sita was invited to the 6341st meeting of the UN Security Council by the UN Special Rapporteur on Children in Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy.
On 17 June, Sita was seated next to Coomaraswamy in the Security Council chamber, where there was representation from 60 countries. Over concerns for her safety, she was introduced as Manju Gurung. Then she recounted her ordeal of abduction by the Maoists at age 11. She was forced to perform heavy labour, trained for combat, and threatened with the murder of her family if she spoke to anyone about the Maoists. She told the assembly about her escape and the discrimination she had to endure at the hands of her family and neighbours back in her home village. She also spent time in the Shaktikhor cantonment in Chitwan before she escaped and finally contacted a human rights organisation that aided her rehabilitation. The chamber was left shocked by her story.
Following her presentation, delegates suggested the council take stringent measures to bring the recruiters of child soldiers to justice.
US representative Susan Rice, quoting the nineteenth century abolitionist Frederick Douglass, said, “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Citing Sita’s case of successful reintegration, she emphasised the need to join the campaign against child recruitment into insurgencies. “Even after conflicts end, scars remain in the form of prolonged trauma and impaired social, emotional and cognitive development,” she said.
Council President Patricia Espinosa, Secretary for External Relations of Mexico, said all types of child abuse during insurgency or war are war crimes. She urged all states to take stringent measures against those involved in such activities. Speakers also argued the Maoists have to do a lot more to prove their innocence. Some even opined they should be charged with war crimes in Sita’s case. The Maoists released 2,395 ex-combatants below 18 years of age seven months ago, but 1,614 of 4,008 minors had already fled the cantonments by the time the discharges took place.
For her part, Sita has no desire to return to the US following her 10-day visit. She wants to see children across the globe secure. “My goal is to complete my studies first and then help rescue troubled children like myself,” she said.
Former Maoist child soldier Sita Tamang, who gave testimony at the United Nations Security Council in New York last month, has been threatened by Maoists at her home in Chitwan.
Tamang, now 18, was introduced as ‘Manju Gurung’ by the UN Special Rapporteur on Children in Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy. Sita recounted her life story, detailing how she was forced into the Maoist movement at age 11. Upon her return, five combatants from the UN-supervised Shaktikhor Cantonment went to Sita’s home while she was out grazing goats.
“A car stopped at our house and five people came out of a car looking for my daughter,” said a terrified Dhan Maya Tamang. “They said she might have to face consequences in the future.”
“The Maoists said to me that I should not have criticised them, and that something bad could happen to me in the future,” Sita said.
Sita first told her story to Himal Khabarpatrika three months ago, as part of a series on what has become of former Maoist combatants. The UN then took her to New York as a case study of how ex-child soldiers can be successfully rehabilitated.
Human rights organisations and journalists in Chitwan say they are worried about Sita’s safety and the local police has posted a sentry at her house.
first saw the Maoists in 2002. I was studying in Class Four and must have been about 11 years old. The Maoists were running a ‘one family, one member’ campaign. Because my parents were occupied with work, I was compelled to go. They said, “Bourgeois education is useless, you should join us,” and didn’t let me return home.
After that, I don’t know where I travelled but after seven days we reached my maternal uncle’s home in Dihitar. I was very scared. I managed to write a letter to my mother. She came to my rescue and took me home. I was terrified when I found out that while I was at school, the Maoists had come to my house and threatened to kill me if I didn’t join them.
During the ceasefire in July 2003, the Maoists organised a general assembly where we went as volunteers from our school. However, after the event concluded, they forcefully took us to Dhading. They threatened us and made us walk night and day. I would watch other children go to school as I walked along with weapons. At that time I was unaware of child rights. I did not know that using child soldiers is a crime. The Maoists made us till fields and roads to gain the favour of the villagers. We had to carry big stones. We were taught to ask the villagers for food. Although we didn’t fight, we had to carry guns, bombs and supplies and walk on difficult terrain.
Six months later, my father found out that we were in Kamitar for training and came to get me. But they wouldn’t let me go. We underwent rigorous military training. They threatened to kill us if we disobeyed or tried to run away. I was seriously injured while jumping from a height of six feet and health problems dogged me from then on. Even so, they told me I had come second in training and made me a section commander.
understood that during war we would be in the frontline and the commanders would give orders from the back.
During the ceasefire in June 2004, we lived in a camp in Chitwan. After the peace agreement was signed, we were moved to the cantonment in Shaktikhor. I took three days of leave and went home, with no intention of returning. I wanted to study. But at home, my mother said that she couldn’t send me to school and people started gossiping about me. I felt miserable, disillusioned and devastated.
In despair, I went back to the cantonment. Saying that it would cure me, they pressurised me to marry. When I refused, I was harassed. I couldn’t stay there so I returned home but again they came for me. They took me to the cantonment and talked of taking action against me. Two days later I ran away to Narayangadh even though I was sick.
I then came across a rehabilitation program that helped me to to resume my studies. I now study in Class Nine and I am also the president of a children’s club. But the fear of the Maoists still haunts me.
As recounted to the UN Security Council, New York, 17 June