In Nepal, ex-combatants start over

woman selling spices
Shobha Raymajhi selling spices to customers in her spice shop. (Photo: Manish Gautam/UNDP Nepal)

Shobha Raymajhi is a friendly spice merchant living on the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal. However, the smiling mother and market-stall owner used to live a less affable existence. Less than a decade ago she carried a gun for the Maoist People's Liberation Army during Nepal’s 10-year civil conflict.

Highlights

  • United Nations Inter-agency Rehabilitation Programme: Partnership between UNDP, UNICEF, UNFPA and ILO to rehabilitate ex-combatants in Nepal and reintegrate them into society
  • 2,234 former combatants helped by UNDP to return to civilian life
  • Close to 40 percent of participants were women, who received special support such as childcare centres, grants, baby food, and specialized career and psychosocial counseling

Though she runs a successful business today, Shobha’s transformation from combatant to business owner since the end of the conflict in 2006 has not been a simple, quick or easy process.

She left home at 13 to fight with the Maoists and was barely 19 when a peace agreement officially ended the hostilities.

The People’s Liberation Army wasn’t disbanded until 2011, and some former members have been able to integrate into the Nepal Army. However, this option was not made available to Shobha and other ex-combatants who were minors at the time of their recruitment. And although she was wounded from combat, her age at recruitment also limits the official help she could receive to reintegrate into the community.

“I was given 6,000 Rupees (US $61) and a pair of shoes and bid goodbye,” she says.

After years of fighting, returning to her hometown has not been easy. Members of Raymajhi’s community still find it difficult to accept her.

"People would question my character and say that no one would want to marry me," she said. "My mother would cry after hearing what the neighbours said."

Today, seven years after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord that ended Nepal’s civil conflict, this is not an uncommon story among former combatants there. With an estimated 15,000 dead from the fighting and up to 150,000 displaced, emotions are still high, and communities may be reluctant to accept the word of a former fighter saying they are now committed to peace. Most returnees reject a return to violence, but many still struggle to find employment.

In conjunction with other UN agencies in Nepal, UNDP has been working since 2010 to change this situation for thousands of the country’s former combatants.

When ex-combatants are unable to make a decent living, or if they return to a life of unemployment and poverty, they may become disaffected, which could destabilize long-term peace, says UNDP.

“The peace process in Nepal is contingent on former fighters being able to have productive and fulfilling lives,” says UNDP's Abdul Hameed Omar. “Active participation in society will strengthen their transition into civilian life and contribute to peacebuilding."

Targeting former combatants who were often minors at the time of their recruitment, UNDP has been helping to start businesses with a range of small grants available to former fighters who complete training programmes in subjects as diverse as education to business management. The help is giving ex-combatants the skills they need to start new businesses and find work.
By the time the programme came to an end this year, more than 2,200 former combatants had learned a trade, trained in health and education, or gone on to other formal or informal education options with UNDP’s help. Many of those who completed the programme in 2010 have since found employment and even started their own businesses.

Shobha says her life has changed significantly because of the programme. With her father's support, she and her husband bought a shop nearby. UNDP gave the couple $975 to buy supplies for their store. Shobha says business is good, and she now earns enough to send her son to school.

“I don’t want to remember the past. I’ve moved on,” she says. “All I want now is to give my son an education and make sure that he does not face the same troubles that I did.”

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