Thousands of children are serving as child soldiers across India. That is the devastating conclusion of a new report by the Asian Center for Human Rights.
According to the study, the recruitment of child soldiers in the country is "rampant," as at least 3,000 children have been involved in various conflicts.
The center estimates that 500 children have been recruited in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, and 2,500 in eastern provinces that are home to leftist insurgents.
India's government has been fighting a separatist insurgency in the northern region of Kashmir for decades.
In several of the country's eastern provinces, Maoist insurgents known as Naxalites are battling the government with the hopes of instating their own communist nation.
The Maoist movement has its own children's wing, Bal Sangathan, which is accused of forcibly recruiting one member from each Adivasi family.
The report explains:
"It has been reported that children of different age groups are trained and assigned different roles. The new entrants, aged from six to 12, are initially used as spies and couriers.
They are also trained in basic drills and armed with 303 rifles. Children above 12 are used as fighters. They are trained to make and plant landmines and bombs, gather intelligence and for sentry duty.
Young girls participate in the same drills as the boys. They are trained to lead operations from the front."
The center's investigators say both insurgents as well as the government are using children in the conflicts, although the majority of child soldiers are recruited by militants.
As the Wall Street Journal notes, authorities in the state of Chhattisgarh have admitted to using children as "Balarakshaks," or child police officers.
The United Nations warned in a 2010 report that the conflict with the Naxalites placed a heavy burden on children in the region.
The U.N. had received reports that insurgents were exhorting villagers to provide five boys or girls, while other reports said militants were forcing families to send at least one child to join the insurgency's ranks.
The U.N. and Human Rights Watch also accused Naxalite rebels of launching systematic attacks on schools and claimed that government forces were using school buildings as bases for anti-Maoist operations.
HRW has also documented that at least 34 schools in Jharkhand and 16 schools in Bihar were attacked by the Maoists during 2009. These do not include schools that were occupied by security forces at the time of attack.
Most of the attacks occurred at night when students and teachers were not there.
Bede Sheppard, Asia researcher on children's rights at Human Rights Watch, said in response to the U.N. document that all sides of the conflicts are abusing children.
"Both the security forces and the Maoists in India are exploiting and harming children, destroying their chances at an education and causing damage that will affect their entire lives," Sheppard said.