Human rights group Amnesty International says children in Nepal are being killed and tortured by both rebels and security forces in the country's brutal civil war.
A new report by the London-based human-rights group Amnesty International says a decade-long rebellion that aims to turn Nepal into a communist republic has been a disaster for children.
Claire Castillejo, who wrote the report, says the situation is worsening as the rebellion intensifies. "We found that children are being killed, they are being detained illegally, tortured, girls are being raped and children are being abducted and used as soldiers," she said.
The report says the rebels use children for fighting, spying on security forces or carrying arms and ammunition. These children then become the target of security forces, who detain and torture youngsters suspected of involvement with the Maoist rebels. Ms. Castillego says the government forces are also guilty of extra-judicial executions.
"Amnesty is concerned that security forces are just not distinguishing between children and adults," she said. "When they come to look for Maoist suspects, if they think the children are involved in Maoist activities they are picking them up, arresting them and treating them as they would adults. We are calling on security forces for separate rules for engagement for children and adults."
A Nepalese army spokesman denied allegations that security forces had killed or tortured children, and said the army is committed to protecting human rights.
The Amnesty report says hundreds of children have died in bomb blasts or other attacks during the conflict. It says many others have fled their homes and face poverty and exploitation.
A volunteer group based in Kathmandu, The Concern Center for Child Workers in Nepal, said Amnesty's concerns are valid and accurate. The Center's head, Sumnima Tuladhar, says children have been affected in many ways. "Many children have lost their parents, they have become orphans," she said. "Many more have been fleeing the villages because of adverse situation there, and above all many, many children are being recruited as child soldiers."
The plight of the children has prompted human rights and civil rights groups in Nepal to promote a campaign called "Children Are Zones of Peace." The campaign was launched four years ago, but has picked up momentum in the past year.
It appeals to both the rebels and the army to respect the fundamental rights of children. It calls for the rebels - who control vast stretches of the countryside - not to target schools and not to attack public places where children might be present.
The Maoist rebellion has claimed more than 10,000 lives.