Catch them young

In the past few months, an extremely shocking cases of children missing were reported in Manipur's media, mentioning that such reports, to the police as well as to the media came only after more then 45 children disappeared since the beginning of the year. The exposure was followed by protest and demonstrations in various parts of the State by civil society, schools and students themselves calling out for 'pens' rather than guns. It was only as late as July and August that it became much talked and written about, reaching far and wide. It also came as a blow to the people since child militants or child combatants were not on the record and 'something new' despite Manipur being a conflict zone, although, militancy or insurgency related reports began mentioning about cadres as young as 10 - 13 years of age being part of the outfit, either as militants , or helpers running errands. Surprisingly, NDTV story on 'children of conflict' in 2007, did not get much attention, almost unnoticed.
In the recent case of missing children, there were those lucky , whose parents lodge compliant or rescued them. And some of the children being repatriated back, due to voices being raised in different corners of the State, in fact for the first time in the hill district of Chadong in Ukhrul. Arguments and blame game too arises, over the children either being in these 'camps' for a cause upon one's own will or under duress. For proof, child militants were made to confess and children who escaped or rescued were made to tell their stories. It is indeed a natural phenomenon, a child growing up with guns and militants around ( thousands were there) do not need to be wooed or taught to be like one. In fact some of them would be in these camps looking up to their elders or in the true sense of a hero worship, out of admiration or an imitations. An armed uniform militant vis a vis security forces is perceived as a “protector” and associated with qualities of 'masculinity'.
A child labor, a chowkidar in a Church, 15 year old, Jangpao, reveal that even his small earning of rupees 1, 500/- was snatch away by his kidnappers. As told to the media, his story tells more than just an ordeal or an escapade. Belonging to the hill community, the boy was in the capital city Imphal, making his own ends meet and studying, away from home. Immediate contact he made was to a friend and an aunt, not a mother or a father , an indication that the boy could be an orphan, or that his parents were living in far flung areas, who could not be reach at that moment of despair. One can also imagine , the other captive girls, not as brave or lucky enough to follow Jangpao who became a savior for them, what their fate and future holds.
State authorities and the common people wake up when parents began report of their missing children, and 'mothers' braved the captors for their sons. This gave the Government the idea of forming an all women force as watch dogs. With the two word that always go together 'women and children' this seems the right thing to do. More so, women in Manipur are quoted as brave and known for being in the forefront for social cause. Though combat does not necessarily come with bravery, as in case of Manipuri women, many a time their actions came out of sheer anger and extreme sentiments, particularly in these conflict ridden State. The other solution formulated was that parents should accompany their wards, wherever they are.
Come November 14 and the next few days, India will be celebrating children's' day. Once again schools in Manipur will too be buzzing with activities, dances, songs, competitions or a 'holiday'. For many whose parents dare not report about them disappearing, or who are not so lucky as Yenkhom Naobi and Angom Langamba who were released after 6 days by their kidnappers, when local residents protested and many like Jangpao , who has to earn for a livelihood, children's day does not seem to have any meaning. This also reminds us about children like Elizabeth Lungnila, daughter of the then education minister in the Manipur government in 2003, whose high profile parents could not save her, and was made a scapegoat.
It may also be recalled that 22 children from Moreh, who were kept at the Life Trust Ministry Home, an orphanage in Padappai, Chennai, that even after reports about the condition of the home and an attempt to escape by the children, their parents still feel that was a better life for them rather than be in extreme poverty after being displace from their homes. Like the 5 girls from Tamenglong rescued in Malaysia in October this year, who were held up by an NGO – Abel and Leo private limited, under the pretext of a job, many are yet to be discovered and rescued.
Moreover, educational establishments as one of the soft target for demands of all kinds, closure of schools are one options many authorities resorted to. Echoing the same feeling and a sense of insecurity, many a times parents too hold back their children at homes. On the other side, sending their children with a hope for better education in the valley, anxious villagers like Honsan Kasar who pours out “with our children in the valley parents in the hills are sleepless” while another added “police stations are far away”. Recollecting the State's ordeal during the past months, let this ' children's day' brings for the children their right to education,protection and growing up in the spirit of freedom, peace and harmonious environment.
The Imphal Free Press, November 2008

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