Colombia’s defense ministry has claimed 110 children demobilized from illegal armed militias in 2012 so far, reported El Tiempo Wednesday.
According to Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon “In the last 10 years, of those that demobilized, about 3,400 are minors.” He also asserted that of the approximately 800 fighters that surrendered this year, about 110 were minors.
The recruitment of child soldiers remains a salient aspect of Colombia’s civil war. On September 9, Ombudsman Jorge Otalora claimed guerrillas of the FARC’s 16th and 44th fronts entered schools in some 23 villages in the Vichada and Guainia departments, trying to entice children into their ranks.
“What cannot be denied is that there are terrorist organizations (…) that find minors to be an ideal option to link to criminal activity”, said Pinzon.
He added, “in the case of the FARC and the ELN, the effort to recruit children occurs mainly in rural areas, but it must be said that (…) criminal gangs also work in urban areas.”
Guillermo Rivera, a Liberal Party member of congress from Putumayo, lamented, “There is a vulnerability of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of children who have no other reference than the illegal armed organizations that have a presence in the territory in which they live. The reality of minors in conflict zones should be the subject of deep decisions, not short-term decisions.”
According to Conservative congressman Oscar Fernando Bravo, “the debate must be about those who are committing the crime. The children are not the ones who want to go into combat, it is the guerrillas who take them.”
The recruitment of children is considered a war crime by international humanitarian law.