Sairenkhun: There are at least 40 insurgent outfits in Manipur and desperate for new recruits, they have been targeting children in the state. In April this year, 10 boys were forcefully taken to militant training camps in Myanmar. The family members of the three boys, who managed to get released, are still living in fear. "I am living in constant fear and think what will happen to my son in the future," says a mother.
The boys tell that they were lured in the camp with the promise of money and cellphones. However, pressure from civil society forced their release. They were warned not to reveal the identity of those who recruited them.
"I saw other boys and also girls in the camp. They kept us in separate rooms. I was told not to take the name of the organisation. When I was coming back, I saw new recruits," says one of the boys, who was released from the camp.
Recruiting child soldiers in Manipur dates back to 2008 when 19 children were kidnapped by militant groups. So far, 66 children have been kidnapped and many have stayed back in the camps. "If they are convinced, thrilled by the guns and the life, it becomes very difficult to get them back," says Child Welfare Committee chairperson Annie Mangsatabam.
With the increasing kidnaps, families in Manipur villages are living in fear. Some underground outfits are also urging children to join them to overcome poverty. Living in the shadow of guns, it seems it is the end of innocence for these young minds.