The unprecedented trend of insurgent groups luring or forcibly taking children away to join their ranks began in May and despite public demonstrations by parents and civil society groups against the practice, kidnappings have continued, creating panic in the state ravaged by insurgency for decades.
“About 30 or more children are believed to be missing from different parts of the Imphal valley although many cases have not been reported to the police. So far, 13 cases of abductions have been registered,” Manipur police chief Y Joykumar Singh told reporters.
All the children, either reported kidnapped or missing, are in the age group of 11 to 16. While four of them have returned, the rest are still untraced. “This is a dangerous development and we are bent on tackling and putting a halt to this action by the militants,” Joykumar Singh said.
The police chief said instructions have been issued to frisk all vehicles at checkpoints and monitor suspicious movement of vehicles or people near educational institutions.
“We have directed the police to keep vigil over bailed out rebel cadres and over-ground sympathisers of militant groups and also to liaise constantly with schools,” Singh said.
The police have set up special task forces in four districts in the Imphal Valley - Imphal West, Imphal East, Thoubal and Bishnupur - to deal with the problem. Joykumar Singh rejected claims by the concerned rebel groups that many children have joined them of their own volition.
“Police investigations have revealed that the children have been forcibly taken away and made to join the outfits,” he said. The two insurgent groups who have admitted or been identified as inducting children in their ranks are the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (vice-chairman faction) and the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (general secretary faction).
One of the PREPAK factions had recently paraded six children before invited journalists and claimed they had willingly joined the group. The police chief said the rebels are recruiting “child soldiers” because “they can no longer find older or mature youth” to join them. Manipur has up to 19 active insurgent groups pushing demands ranging from secession to more autonomy.