Kathmandu - The Human Rights Watch (HRW), an organization dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world, has urged the Maoists in Nepal to release thousands of child soldiers held for months in cantonments.
In a letter, the US-based human rights watchdog has urged the new Minister of Women, Children and Social Welfare Khadga Bahadur Bishwakarma to secure the Maoists' cooperation with the United Nations (UN) and child protection agencies to allow children to return home without further delay.
Bishwakarma is also a member of the central committee of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist).
Out of the 30,000 Maoist cadres registered in the cantonment sites created under Nepal's Comprehensive Peace Agreement, an estimated 6,000 to 9,000 are believed to be children under the age of 18, HRW said.
"There is no excuse for letting children languish in cantonment sites month after month," said Jo Becker, children's advocate at Human Rights Watch.
"Under the terms of Nepal's peace agreement, these children should be released immediately so they can enter rehabilitation programs, get back into school, and rejoin their families."
The November 2006 peace agreement between the Nepalese government and the Maoists specifically prohibits the enlistment or use of children under the age of 18, and specifies that such children should be immediately "rescued" and provided with rehabilitation services.
The HRW letter noted that Bishwakarma attended a February conference in Paris, where representatives from 58 states committed themselves to putting an end to the unlawful recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts.
At the conference, governments agreed to support and apply new guidelines, known as the "Paris Principles," for protecting children from recruitment and providing assistance to those who have already been involved with armed forces or groups.
"Minister Bishwakarma should work with the Maoists to implement the commitments that have been made," urged Becker, expressing his "deep concern" at credible reports that children "continue to be recruited by Maoist forces in various parts of the country."