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The ten-year conflict between Maoist rebels and the government of Nepal, which finally ended in 2006, resulted in many human rights abuses; not the least among them was the use of child soldiers by the Maoist rebels. According to human rights organizations, Maoists forcibly took children from schools and persuaded them to fight against the government during the civil war.

In early January 2010, 155 former child soldiers were released as civilians after three years in detention camps monitored by the United Nations. These were the first of over 24,000 former Maoist fighters to be discharged under the 2006 agreement, including 3,000 minor combatants and another 1,035 who helped the Maoists in non-combatant roles. The rest are to be released during the course of February 2010. Unlike their adult counterparts, who are to be incorporated into the national military, the former child soldiers, who were under the age of eighteen in 2006, are to be released to their families; they will receive rehabilitation packages that provide them with the opportunity to attend school or to learn new trades. Their progress will be monitored by the UN.

The discharge of former Maoist child soldiers from detention camps is part of an action plan agreed to in December 2009 by the UN, the Nepalese government, and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M). Once the former child soldiers are released, the UCPN-M will be removed from the Secretary-General’s list of child soldier recruiters.

The move is a momentous one in furthering the Nepalese peace process, which reached a standstill in November 2009 after Maoists protested the president’s powers concerning the army. The UCPN-M had originally refused the rehabilitation plan, demanding financial packages for the minors instead of educational and vocational training. The government refused to alter the plan, however, fearing that financial benefits would end up funding the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and assisting them in convincing former child soldiers to join them instead of returning home. After November’s tension, The UN envoy to Nepal cites the release of the child soldiers as an optimistic sign in the peace process.

The UN mandate, responsible for facilitating negotiations thus far, ended on January 23, 2010, but the release of child soldiers is just the first of many necessary steps to ensure that the peace process continues. The enormous task of reintegration of former rebels, coupled with the drafting of the national constitution and preparation for the elections to follow, was presented to the UN Security Council as evidence that Nepal needs additional help from the UN. Nepal’s representative to the UN has requested an extension of the UN mission mandate until May 2010. Despite the initiation of the former child soldiers’ rehabilitation programs, there is no guarantee that the peace process will continue without further UN assistance.