Peace agreement leads to improved school security

Smiling behind her desk, school teacher Sabita Adhikari is thrilled to see all 40 of her fourth grade students in class. “Nobody is absent anymore. It’s because children feel safe to travel from their villages to attend class,” said Adhikari who teaches at Sri Bal Mandir Secondary School in Nilkanta village in Dhading district, nearly 100 km south of the capital.

Until November’s peace agreement, which brought a decade-long conflict to an end, many rural children were afraid to come to school for fear of being abducted by Maoist rebels for ‘indoctrination’ training, or being forced to shoulder a rifle in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

But in May, the rebels called a ceasefire following the end of direct rule by Nepalese monarch, King Gyanendra, and started peace talks with the new interim government of seven national parties.

Subsequent peace talks led to the signing of a historic peace agreement bringing an end to the armed conflict which killed over 14,000 Nepalese people, according to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

The process for management of arms and armies of both the Maoists and the Nepalese state has already started, according to government officials, with the cantonment of Maoist soldiers and the confinement of Nepalese Army (NA) personnel inside their barracks now under way.

“Education was the most affected sector [by the conflict] and children were most vulnerable,” said Sri Ram Aryal, Principal of Mindukta Primary School. He added that the current management and monitoring of arms and armies has assured better security for villagers, with children now largely able to walk to school without fear of being abducted by Maoists or caught in skirmishes between them and security forces.

“The most visible change among children in this district is the lack of stress and trauma among them,” said schoolteacher Adhikari.

Teachers like her also feel life has improved with the peace process. “It’s a relief that we don’t have to fear for our lives or pay taxes to the rebels anymore and now we can focus more on how best to educate our children,” she added.

According to local human rights group, Insec, hundreds of teachers were internally displaced from their homes, abducted, tortured and killed at the hands of the Maoists for failing to support their rebellion.

Teaching staff, like many Nepalese civilians, also suffered arbitrary arrests and illegal detentions and torture at the hands of the government’s security forces on suspicion of supporting the rebels, Insec added.

“We don’t see any armed people, whether from the Maoists or the Nepalese Army, in our villages – that’s a wonderful feeling that we have not had for 10 years,” said Parbati Adhikari, Principal of Sri Bal Mandir Secondary School.