Gifts galore

Gifts galore

It was a bitter-sweet sight to see the “disqualified” Maoist combatants leaving the cantonments with Rs. 22,000 in their pockets and many clutching small babies in their arms. According to international law and terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, most of them should not have been enlisted in the Maoist army in the first place, and all of them should have been discharged from the cantonments two years ago. Better late than never; it is good that they have finally left the cantonments to be reunited with their families and to hopefully lead a peaceful civilian life.

Had their leaders not misled them, most of the combatants who were “disqualified” for being under 18 years of age at the time of verification by UNMIN could have left more happily with a very generous rehabilitation package that the UN country team had prepared for them. Unfortunately, the Maoist leaders did not allow the concerned combatants to interact freely with UN staff to better understand what the rehabilitation “package” contained and how it could be further improved.

For example, if the UN team had a chance to interact with the female combatants who left with their small babies (they were not permitted even to ask them whether they had dependents when they completed their exit questionnaires), an additional special package could have been developed for the benefit of those babies.

Many youngsters were lured into the Maoist army before even finishing their primary school. They were told by the Maoist recruiters that the “bourgeois education” they were getting was useless anyway, while their leaders continued to send their own children for precisely such “bourgeois education”. Having taken such a position in the past, it was now difficult for the Maoist leadership to encourage the discharged combatants to go back to “bourgeois schools”, although the UN had prepared an excellent educational package for them to complete their schooling that was cruelly interrupted.

The Maoist leadership, negotiating on behalf of the “disqualified” combatants, tried to negotiate a package that would have secured a big lump sum in cash, or kept the ex-combatants in organised group activities, presumably under the party’s continuing guidance and influence. Such arrangements were simply unacceptable under the UN’s guiding principles for rehabilitation of child soldiers.

Having failed to secure a package as they wished, the Maoist leadership denounced and belittled the UN-prepared package as being insulting and unacceptable; although by international standards, the package is one of the best in the world. Most Nepali youngsters outside the cantonments would feel very lucky if they had access to such benefits.

In terms of educational opportunities, the ex-combatants can enroll in primary, secondary or higher secondary schools at or nearby their communities. For girls who need to enroll at a school away from their home villages, the package would also include arrangement of accommodation in government-run hostels.

The educational option includes taking non-formal literacy or post-literacy classes that better prepare the youngsters to enter school at a higher grade more commensurate with their age. If they are unable to attend regular classes, they also have the option of an “open school” to allow them to take grades 8 and 10 exams and enter school to complete grades 11 and 12, if they so wish. Those who choose any of these educational options would get a generous monthly stipend by Nepali standards while they are attending school.

Ex-combatants can also get support for training and learning a variety of vocational skills and starting their own businesses. If they need some educational qualifications to participate in these skill training programmes, they can get help to acquire the necessary education up to grade 8 or even SLC. During the training period, they get a monthly stipend to cover their living expenses. After the training, they get widely recognised training certificates, funding for essential toolkits, access to micro credit, career counseling and support for starting small enterprises or finding jobs, including foreign employment.

Ex-combatants are also given a very attractive option of training for jobs in the health sector as CMAs, laboratory assistants, community health workers or maternal and child health workers. While jobs are not guaranteed after the training, it is widely known that job opportunities are very promising for such trained health workers.

To be able to have access to such schooling and training opportunities with generous stipends and living expenses would be a dream come true for most Nepali youngsters. It is unfortunate that the Maoist leaders negotiating on behalf of the “disqualified” combatants did not allow them to fully understand the benefits of the package. Let us hope that the Maoist leaders will not make a similar mistake in the future when negotiating rehabilitation options for the “qualified” combatants.

Fortunately, it is not too late. All 4,008 “disqualified” combatants still have a chance to apply for these packages within one year from the date of their discharge by contacting a toll-free phone number: 1660-01-7788. Already, several hundred ex-combatants have called this number after they were discharged. Others are encouraged to do so.

There are many ways for these young people to serve their nation. Completing their unfinished education, getting vocational skill training and getting honourable civilian jobs is the best way for them to develop their own personality and serve the nation. The Maoist leaders will surely find many ways to give their own children quality “bourgeois education” and access to good civilian jobs. The “disqualified” combatants, who are the sons and daughters of ordinary, poor farmers and workers, should be wise enough to take charge of their own lives by taking advantage of the generous rehabilitation package offered by the UN., Published On: 2010-2-28