Army of Children -- A Tear Jerker

The Colombian Magazine -- Cambio -- published a report of the FARC's child army. Here are some excerpts I have translated from the article (sometimes I have summarized, too).

Three months ago, a mother watched as the FARC took her 12 year old son away. Apparently, a woman militia member had come to the rural area where the family lives. The anguished mother reported, "The woman would give candy, lunches, and manuals to the children of the area. She wanted to recruit them, she taught them that joining the FARC was their best option and many of the children thought that they (the FARC) were promising them the stars and went off with the guerrilla. Others were taken by force." The mother decided that the best option was to leave the area with her 4 children, but before she could leave, the guerrillas came for her oldest son. As they dragged the boy off, his pleading eyes said, "Mami, help me!" But, she could do nothing, now her only option is to pray that they won't him.

According to a report by the Catholic Church, more than 500 children from rural areas in the departments of Meta, Guaviare, Putumayo, Caquetá, Arauca and Vaupés were recruited by the FARC in the last year. The same is happening in Nariño and Cauca, where the authorities report that "They are making a Army of Children." The children are obliged to perform as regular troops. They take apart and reassemble pistols and other weaponry, they stand watch, and they even fight against Colombian Army troops. The recruitment of children is not new, but it is becoming systematic and widespread, even though it is considered a War Crime and practitioners could be brought before the International Court.

The average age of a child recruited by the FARC is 12.9, but in the departments of Guaviare and Caquetá the average age is going down and now is 11.8 years. Christian Salazar, director of the Colombian Office of the Untied Nations High Commission on Human Rights states, "The Guerillas arrive in communities and ask for one child per family, this is one of the major causes of the internal displacement in Colombia. Parents simply do not want the FARC to take their children."

Three years ago, authorities estimated that there were between 6,000 and 11,000 children in the guerrilla. Today, just three years later, the numbers have more than doubled from 14,000-17,000. This figure would place Colombia fifth in the world for countries where children are used by armed groups. This also means that 1 in every 4 armed combatants is a child 17 or younger. In fact, in some areas, children as young as 6 are being used to transport explosives or bury land mines.

Last March, the United Nations reported that in "Many cases, the armed groups have tortured or killed children just for having resisted their recruitment efforts o for having attempted to escape."

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