Colombian officials have reported that 80 percent of demobilized minors who formerly belonged to an illegal armed group joined voluntarily.
According to the government’s High Commission for Reintegration, more than 80% of minors who join illegal armed groups initially did so voluntarily, to escape from household problems, lack of opportunity or sexual abuse, as reported by the majority of those who have since abandoned the groups.
“They see in the illegality a refuge, because they feel excluded from society. For this reason we are running a preventive campaign in order to show them that there are options in art, communications and sports, in which they can feel included,” said High Commissioner for Reintegration Alejandro Eder, reported newspaper El Tiempo.
According to Eder, in the past four years approximately 4,500 minors have been taken out of the conflict, while 47% of those that demobilize as adults were recruited as minors.
“What this shows is a very big problem with recruitment of minors that we have to confront as a society,” newspaper El Pais quoted Eder as saying. He added that “Many times, Colombians don’t realize that the murderers can be victims.”
The campaign, titled “Mambru does not go to war. This is another story,” began in October 2010, and has been gradually implemented in 26 municipalities and four locations in Bogota, where the risk of recruitment is highest, bringing art, sports and communications opportunities to at-risk children. Medellin and Cauca were identified as the two other highest risk areas.
“Further than removing them from the conflict, what we want is to avoid that they go to the illegal groups [in the first place],” said Katherine Lopez, a prevention counselor, who says that at this moment there are 1,000 kids participating in sports and art projects through the initiative that as a result have not joined the conflict.
Though the campaign is the first step in the process, the High Reintegration Commission members believe that in order to truly face the problem, politicians must also become involved in providing alternative opportunities to kids.