Nepal's army has been rapped for alleged child recruitment by a UN panel at Geneva that called the kingdom "in many ways ... not a country fit for children".
Lucy Smith, rapporteur for the report on Nepal, said that while nearly 30 per cent of Maoist soldiers were said to be children, the government was also allegedly recruiting them "for various purposes".
The 18-member UN Committee on the Rights of the Children tabled its findings and recommendations in Geneva on Friday.
In her preliminary observations, Smith said the committee was "seriously concerned about the armed conflict which had resulted in thousands of deaths among children, both directly and indirectly".
"In many ways Nepal was not a country fit for children," she added. "A generation of Nepalese children was already affected by the conflict; they represented the future of Nepal."
While also coming down heavily on the Maoists for "gross human rights violations", forcible use of minors as porters, combatants and human shields, and indiscriminate planting of mines that killed children, the UN body, however, noted that it was the responsibility of the Maoists and the government to solve the conflict by "giving and taking to create a society that was fit for children".
Rabindraman Joshi, secretary in Nepal's ministry of women, children and social welfare, had presented the government's report on May 20 on how it was implementing the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
As one of the 192 countries party to the convention, Nepal is obliged to present periodic reports to the committee.
Joshi came under a barrage of questions from the panel members, including on the recruitment of children by the Royal Nepalese Army.
While Nepal's Maoist insurgents have been widely condemned for the forcible recruitment of minors, little is known about the army's employment of children. The government highlights the forcible recruitment of children but has remained silent about its own involvement.
The Nepalese delegation, which besides Joshi included representatives from the army and police, admitted that the army earlier employed minors for work like cooking and cleaning.
However, he said the practice had been stopped about five years ago.
Despite the defence, the UN panel said in its findings Friday that government forces were allegedly using children as "spies and messengers".
It said the Nepalese army was also "targeting" under 18-year-olds suspected of being associated with the communist guerrillas by arbitrarily detaining them or making them disappear.
The UN panel has also raised the issues of child trafficking, birth registration, especially for Bhutanese refugees and the effects of Nepal's anti-terrorist law, which apparently specified no age limit in prosecuting offenders.