Shillong, Jan. 8: The prevalence of child labour in Meghalaya is an established reality. It has now been revealed that besides forcing children to work, they are also being allegedly used as “soldiers and goondas” for the benefit of militants and coal mine owners.
While bringing this allegation to light, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights today convinced the state government to conduct a high-level inquiry to ascertain the accusation.
According to commission member Yogesh Dube, there have been reports of children being used as “goondas” in the coal belt of Shahlang in West Khasi Hills by mine owners to settle scores with business rivals.
“We have received reports that children are being used by coal mine owners to threaten people. The state government has agreed to conduct a high-level inquiry to look into this allegation,” Dube told reporters here.
On the issue of children being recruited by militant groups like the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), a report from the state government stated that “there has been no confirmation of mass recruitment of children as soldiers”.
But at the same time, the report pointed out that a modus operandi adopted by the GNLA is to use children, including school-going ones, as “informers and couriers”.
These children are being provided mobile phones, SIM cards and allowances to act as informers about movement of police and security forces, it said.
“The children also fancy jungle uniforms and weapons of the insurgents and fall prey to the lure of money,” the report stated.
Further, it pointed out that so far, the police have come across at least five minor boys who were allegedly used by the GNLA.
From these, two were used by the group for distributing extortion notes in business areas.
“The state home secretary has been briefed about the matter (child soldiers) and is taking steps to ensure that such incidents do not take place,” Dube said.
The commission was also highly critical of the state labour department and warned of strict measures if it fails to adopt the recommendations to improve the status of children, especially those engaged in coal mining activities in Jaintia Hills.
“We have civil court powers and can transfer or suspend officials. We would be seeing what actions the labour department take on child rights protection till March, when elections are over,” Dube added.
The commission alleged that the labour department was yet to act on a report prepared by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Guwahati campus) on children who were found to be engaged as labourers in the coal depots of Jaintia Hills last year.
While the report found that 343 children were engaged in coal mining activities in seven coal depots in 10 villages, Dube said the department was yet to rescue even a single child.
He also said the government would form the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights this year.