SFX - shooting / shouting
COCHRANE: Nepal's 10 year civil war attracted thousands of young boys and girls away from their villagers and into the jungles to fight, cook and spy for the rebel Maoists. Many children were performers in cultural groups which spread propaganda in remote villages. With the official end of the war in late 2006 came promises to immediately discharge all child soldiers, but two years on, little has been done. The Maoists, who now head the government after elections this year, registered 30-thousand fighters and the UN decided that around 3-thousand of those were under age of 18. But Suman Khadka, a child rights advocate for Save the Children in Nepal, says the 3-thousand who currently live in UN-monitored camps, or cantonments, are just the tip of the iceburg.
KHADKA: There was so many children outside the cantonments, informally, who never even came to the cantonments... and now we actually realise the ones who are in the community are much more vulnerable and they actually need equally support if not more.
COCHRANE: Experts say its impossible to put an exact number on how many child soldiers there are in Nepal, but Ms Khadka estimates that less than a third of young fighters are in Maoist camps.
KHADKA: I think we are saying 15,000 children including those children in the cantonments, but that means at least 10 to 12,000 are actually outside in the community.
COCHRANE: Ian Martin is the chief of the UN Mission in Nepal, which has assisted with the peace process. He and others in the UN have pushed for the immediate discharge of child soldiers, as called for in the peace deal. But Mr Martin says reintegration has been delayed by concerns from the former rebels that child soldiers they trained could be re-recruited by other smaller armed groups who continue to fight for various causes.
MARTIN: That's a concern, in fact, which the Maoist leadership expresses to us as to why they dont want those who are still in the cantonments to be discharged, unless and until arrangements have been made to reintegrate them effectively. They specifically express concern that they might join other armed groups and there are people who, even if they came very late into the cantonments, have had some degree of physical and even military training there.
COCHRANE: UNICEF and other childrens organisations have started working with child soldiers, both inside and outside the camps to faciltate their return home. But that's not always an easy process. Robert Koenig is the producer of a soon-to-be-released documentary called 'Returned: Child Soldiers of Nepal's Maoist Army'.
KOENIG: The child soldier in Nepal is not what you think of as child soldiers in say Africa or in other places around the world where there is this forced recruitment, where in Nepal there seems to be more of an indoctrination program and the indoctrination starts very early, they have these indoctrination programs that go around to the schools... and for the most part, most of the Maoist kids that we met were really into the idea of being a Maoist.Click here to view the full transcript and hear the radio broadcast online.