Reposted with permission from Talking About Colombia
Today is International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers.
Finally, today, after two and a half years of official negotiations between the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC guerrilla group, there is a break-through: the FARC have agreed to not recruit children under 17 years of age.
The FARC said their policy was to recruit members between the ages of 15 and 30 years of age, according to what FARC leaders decided in 1982 at the National Conference of guerrillas.
The word “recruitment” needs to be defined.
Long before minors put on guerrilla fatigues, they are, by default, already “recruited.”
At first, children are asked to be informers for the group.
Then, they are made to deliver confidential messages.
To transport sensitive materials.
To guide forces through their terrain.
They are told to loiter in police stations and army bases.
To report back on what is said.
I believe when children perform these activities, they are already recruited.
According to Colombia’s Ministry of Family Welfare, in 15 years, 5,708 minors have been demobilized and rehabilitated.
According to the Ministry of Defense, in 14 years, 4,067 minors have demobilized (2,648 from FARC and 676 from ELN). Seventy percent of them were between 16 and 17 years old when they demobilized.
I believe the numbers are greater; and the ages in which they formed part of the group are younger, much, much younger.
Sixty-five percent of all recruitment happens between the ages of 6 and 14, according to Natalia Springer, a social scientist and expert on child soldiers.
It can take decades of therapy for teenagers to admit that they grew up in the group.
The stress of life in war can cause a kind of amnesia, and to survive in the armed group, children numb their feelings. It is easier for children to regard, per se, the five or six years in the group as a mere six months. That means a 16- or 17-year-old officially joined, and so put on the fatigues, at the age of 11 or 12.
But long before they are 11 or 12 years old, they are already carrying out the tasks described above.
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