They expected fame and hero status by joining the revolution that helped transform Nepal into a republic. But for many former combatants who were recruited while minors, the outcome has been bitter.
The decade-long civil war ended in 2006 after claiming more than 17,000 lives. For many of the Maoist fighters who enlisted as children, the revolutionary cause did not deliver the glory they had hoped for.
In December 2007, as part of the peace deal which brought the conflict to an end, 2,974 former combatants were identified as minors and disqualified from efforts to integrate the Maoist cadres into Nepal's army. They face marginalisation from society as well as disappointment over the outcome of their efforts and sacrifices.
"Inadequate psychosocial support [combined with] expectations of fame, prestige and money from their families and community members are major discouragements to these child soldiers' rehabilitation into the society," Anish Bhandari, a researcher who deals with the issue, told Khabar South Asia.
The disqualified combatants were supposed to be released immediately from their barracks so they could begin their journey back to civilian society. But that did not happen. Only in 2010 did the Maoists – now the ruling party in Nepal -- finally discharge them.
Now many suffer emotional turmoil, looking back on their days as a soldier with nostalgia while feeling that their contribution has gone unacknowledged. They feel they earned a stake in deciding Nepal's future – but the actual prospects awaiting them are more mundane.
For Narayan Pariyar, now 24, his time as a revolutionary cadre is a source of pride. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) conscripted him at the age of 16 as he returned home from school in the district of Sindhupalchok.
He says he had a feeling he might be forced into war sooner or later.
"Every household in our village had been ordered to send at least one person to the PLA and they had already recruited many youngsters from our school," he told Khabar.
Although initially unwilling to join, Narayan later came to identify with the rebellion and its objectives. "My people had always been discriminated [against] and impoverished," he said. "As the so-called low caste people, we were always humiliated and oppressed.
"But in PLA everyone was treated equally and with respect. We staged cultural performances together, ate together, fought together and died together."
Pramila Bishwokarma, 23, hails from the district of Sidhuli. Her decision to join the PLA at 15, while a class nine secondary student, was entirely voluntary. The motive was revenge.
"My uncle disappeared during the emergency period," she said. "My elder sister joined the PLA and was killed in a battle. Then, my elder brother joined the PLA and got arrested. So I joined the PLA to take revenge for what happened to my family members."
Pramila was told if she joined the war, the country would change; the lives of the underprivileged would improve and justice would be established. "I joined the war because I could relate these things to my own family," she said.
Though she feels no regrets about joining, Pramila says the PLA's revolution has not delivered on its promises. Moreover, being disqualified from army integration is a disappointing blow.
To help ease the transition into civilian life, the government is offering a number of programmes for former child soldiers, with support from UNICEF and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). These include vocational training, sponsorship for school education, training in health care and support for small business initiatives.
Another former child soldier, who gave his name as Sameer Kafle, 22, was conscripted into war while still a secondary level student. As part of his rehabilitation, he took up UN-provided cell phone repair training.
"They said it was our duty to join the war and fight for the injustice done to our people. Every household had to send at least one person to the rebellion, hence, I joined the war," Kafle told Khabar.
Kafle said he fought to change the country, not to get training in cell phone repair.
Similarly, former fighter Narayan says he had envisaged a role in helping to shape his country's future. Although proud that Nepal has finally become a republic, he believes many changes are still needed.
"I want to fight for those causes but they say I am 'disqualified'. It is humiliating," he said, noting he was trained as a mechanic as part of his rehabilitation package. "I want to fix my society not motorcycles and buses."
The rehabilitation process remains a huge challenge because of the widespread disappointment among this group of ex-fighters, experts say.
"The majority of them feel embarrassed to have been termed 'disqualified'," Bhandari, the researcher, said. "Fighting the war was a matter of pride for many of them. Now being labeled as disqualified has made them feel defeated."