Distressed by the plight of children in the conflict between security forces and Maoists, the Human Rights Watch has made an impassioned appeal to both parties to respect the sanctity of schools and educational centres

In its latest report, ‘Sabotaged Schooling: Naxalite Attacks and Police Occupation of Schools in India’s Bihar and Jharkhand States,’ it underlined the “disturbing hypocrisy in the way both parties to this conflict act with little concern for the effect of their actions on children” and their right to education.

The report has dubbed as false the claims of the two parties that their respective actions — destruction of school buildings by the naxalites or their occupation by security forces — did not disrupt the education of children, especially the most deprived.

Human Rights Watch maintained that during its survey in the two States, it found that at least 25 schools were damaged by naxalites between November 2008 and October 2009, though these had not been used by security forces for conducting counter-insurgency operations. Likewise, the occupation of schools by security forces lasted, in some cases, for more than three years to almost a decade. This led to children dropping out of school or attending less regularly.

It was not always that security forces occupied school premises to launch operations against naxalites; the report cited examples of the use of school premises by the police after naxalites had blown up police stations.

No attempt was made to provide alternative accommodation in such cases. The worst part was the helplessness of the Education Departments in both the States to get these schools vacated, not to speak of the vain efforts of principals, teachers, parents and schoolchildren. “As one arm of the government attempts to increase access to education, the other is taking educational opportunities away from the neediest children. For children this is a disaster, denying their rights and affecting their life chances for ever,” the report said.

Human Rights Watch has called upon the CPI (Maoist) to cease attacks on school buildings and respect these education resource centres under the international humanitarian law. And it has urged the State and Central governments not to permit security forces to use educational premises and deprive children of their right to education.

It has also called upon international bodies like the U.N. to make a field visit to the areas affected by naxalite insurgency and government counter-insurgency to assess the impact of the conflict on children.

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