Left with no option: the struggle of former Nepalese child soldiers
Lenin Bista was born in 1990. In 2002, as civil war raged in Nepal, he joined the Maoist party, thus becoming one of the many child soldiers that were used during the conflict. He recalls.
TRIAL International: Why did you join the Maoists?
Lenin Bista: At the time, we only had three choices: join the Government, join the Maoist Party or leave the country. Some people chose to leave, but I was a child so I couldn’t. The Maoists came to my village, they were singing, talking about equality and nationalism. I joined the group along with four other friends about the same age. Two are dead now. We did not know anything about the Maoist movement; we simply liked the speech and the program.
So, joining the Maoists was not strictly politically motivated…
The slogan back then was “One house – One Maoist“. Compulsory. The Nepalese security forces often tortured people and beat villagers to get information, sometimes rape and kill innocent people. In response, families automatically join this group.
What role did you play in the guerrilla?
I was a member of the intelligence group of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), my work was to go to the cities and police or army camps, and recall information, see what is there, and report to our commander to prepare for the next attack. We were trained on how to make a bomb, how to use guns. I took part in two attacks: one we won, the other we lost many friends and ran back. When the army came, we have two options: run or fight.
What happened when the war ended?
After the peace agreement was signed in 2006, we stayed in cantonment for four years. I was 18-19 when I came back to my village. The UN and Nepal Government promised us some opportunities, education. But one year after, nothing had changed.
You started to advocate for the rights of the former child soldiers…
We created an organisation called D-PLAN (Discharged People’s Liberation Army Nepal). We peacefully demonstrated; we went to our ex-commander’s headquarter asking for opportunities. In response, they vandalised my home and kidnapped me. I escaped and I had to hide for one month. After a few months the Government led by Maoists put me in jail for one exact year for asking for education.
With how many other ex-child soldiers are you in contact?
Nowadays there are more 4000 ex child soldiers in our organisation. We work voluntarily, we are not a funded organisation. We have no real database, we stay in contact via Facebook or by phone, or directly from friend to friend. We have connections in every district.
The Nepalese Government seems to be uncomfortable with the issues you and your organisation rise. How does this affect you?
Six months ago, they stopped me at the airport. The government feared for its image, and that Nepal could be accused of war crimes. They tried to stop me speaking about child soldiers.
If the Nepalese Government is not willing to help you, who will?
We filed a report to the UN because we want former child soldiers to have a better future in Nepal. The UN only hears about reports filed by the Government, saying that everything is ok in the country. But we lived these years of conflict. As former child soldiers, we speak about these things as a first-handed experience. I hope the UN will help.