The United Nations has called on Nepal's former Maoist rebels to release child soldiers who were recruited as guerilla fighters during their decade-long campaign to overthrow the monarchy. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the former rebels are now in charge of the country's government.
The United Nations says that nearly 3,000 underage combatants, who belonged to Maoist guerrilla forces, are still confined to U.N. monitored camps in Nepal.
These minors were recruited by the Maoists while they waged a guerilla war to overthrow Nepal's monarchy. In 2006, under a peace deal, about 19,000 rebel fighters - including the underage ones - were housed in various camps.
Since then, much has changed in the country. The Maoists have swept to power, and their leader, Prachanda is now the country's Prime Minister.
The Coordinator at the United Nations Mission for Nepal, Macarena Aguilar, says the new government should formally release all fighters under the age of 18.
"Their rights to reintegration should be respected and it should of course be fully supported," Aguilar said. "We are concerned of course that the longer the minors remain away from their families, away from their communities, the more difficult the reintegration process is likely to be."
So far the Maoists have not responded to calls for release of underage fighters, and have said they have still to decide what to do with them. Some human rights activists have expressed concern that these youngsters will be mobilized for political campaigns.
Gauri Pradhan is a spokesperson for the National Human Rights Commission, which has also been pushing for the release of the young fighters. He hopes the recent political changes that have put the Maoists in power, will spell changes for the underage fighters.
"There is opportunity as well as challenges now," he said. "The Prime Minister has responsibility as head of government to rescue them [minors] and help them for their reintegration to their respective family."
The issue of what will happen to the thousands of guerrilla fighters staying in camps has still to be resolved. The former rebels want them to be recruited into the army, but the army is reluctant to have soldiers who have been politically indoctrinated.