In the Name of Children’s Rights: Rethinking The Rhetoric of Schools as Zones of Peace and Prohibitions on Student Involvement in Party-Based Activities in Nepal
The protection of children living in areas of armed conflicts has now become one of the prime objectives of humanitarian and development agencies across the world. Among the practices, securing children’s access to education during political violence has gained growing attention since the early 2000s. Commensurately, the action disrupting children’s access to education has come to be seen as a violation of child protection.
The effort to protect children’s right to education was introduced to Nepal during the “People’s War”, which was launched by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) against the government in 1996. Since then, the effort, called Schools as Zones of Peace (SZOP), followed more than a decade-‐long advocacy campaign by international organizations. Finally, the government of Nepal endorsed SZOP as a national directive in 2011. This directive aims to secure children’s rights to access education by excluding three types of activities from schools: 1) armed activities, 2) party-‐based politics and 3) discrimination. Major provisions among them are aimed at regulating student involvement in activities and organizations affiliated with political parties. These provisions were based on the historical recognition that children’s right to access education has been consistently threatened by political parties throughout the People’s War and the surge of protests by ethnic-‐based political parties in the post-‐conflict period. However, there exists a body of work that brings into doubt these assumptions underlying SZOP.
Drawing on interviews with teachers at a public secondary school in Kathmandu, this article examines the validity of these assumptions by exploring how the teachers understand and practice SZOP at the school. The overall finding is that although the teachers I interviewed agreed with SZOP’s prohibition against the mobilization of the school and its closure by political parties as a means to pressure the government, they did not consider students’ affiliation with a political party, per se, as a problem. Rather, they appreciated certain community-‐related activities run by the political party and its affiliated student organization. Thus, the teachers regulate their students’ participation in party-‐related activities only during school hours, but not outside of school hours. The teachers rather expressed their concern that the text of SZOP can be interpreted as preventing student participation not only in party-‐ based activities but also in all types of political activities.
These findings call for the reconsideration of SZOP’s victim image of Nepalese students in relation to “politics”. By emphasizing political party’s “misuse” of students, SZOP has a risk of silencing students’ active engagement in political activities and civic engagements that are appreciated by the people. This article also argues that application of SZOP on Madhesh political struggle needs to be sensitive.
This article begins by reviewing the context upon which SZPOP was initiated in Nepal. I then explain the rationale of SZOP and its decade-‐long advocacy campaign. These notions will then be contested with the data from my fieldwork carried out in Kathmandu from October to November 2015. Finally, I draw out implications for policy and practice, and suggest directions for further research.