Almost half of the approximately 8,000 fighters in the FARC were recruited by the rebel group as minors, according to a university study on Colombia’s largest guerrilla organization.
After studying official and FARC documents, and interviewing guerrilla deserters, the Bogota-based Sergio Arboleda university concluded that 47% of the FARC’s current fighters entered the group when they were still under 18.
According to the Geneva conventions, the recruitment of fighters under 18 is a war crime.
Nevertheless, “official documents, and the statutes and other material from the FARC show that the recruitment [of minors] has been part of their practices,” Luis Andres Fajardo of the university told Spanish news agency EFE.
According to the report, the guerrillas have mainly allowed the entry of fighters over 15 years old.
All armed groups active in Colombia have been responsible for child recruitment, “but the group that absolutely has generated more victims and of who exists most information is the FARC,” said Fajardo.
Guerrilla recruitment of minors most prevalent in remote areas with potential mining activities and particularly focused on recruiting children of Colombia’s indigenous minority, Fajardo’s report claimed.
“The indigenous are highly appreciated because they know the terrain, move easily and apparently have greater resistance to the natural elements, which allows them [the guerrillas] to receive most benefit from these children,” Fajardo told EFE.
While a vast number of minors that enter the FARC do so voluntarily, in principle “all recruitment of minors is forced” as no army is allowed to use or receive children in war.
“The guerrillas take advantage of situations of abandonment by the state and offers the children a salary to send to their parents. However, later they refuse to let them leave … they are put on trial and killed. It’s a trap, because a child does not have the free capacity to decide, they are coerced,” Fajardo said.
Another trend the university researchers found is that many minors join the FARC with the intention of demobilizing and receiving a government subsidy for demobilized fighters.
Fajardo told EFE his study group decided to tackle the FARC’s child recruitment exactly because of ongoing peace talks with the FARC. The university professor said it was important to not repeat mistakes made during the demobilization of paramilitary organization AUC in the event FARC fighters need to be disarmed, demobilized and reintegrated.
“En the Justice and Peace process the judicial sentences handed out because of this crime were virtually nil. It would be terrible if we move forward with a process of transitional justice while forgetting the crime that the International Criminal Court has come to consider as the most serious of all,” the professor said.
According to Fajardo, his study seeks to “generate debate” in Colombia and make child soldiers the “principal focus” in the event of a disarmament of the FARC.
The rebels and delegates of the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos have been in Cuba since 2012 to negotiate an end of the 50-year-long conflict.
The FARC recently admitted responsibility for victimization and said they agree to be held accountable for their actions as merited by the Geneva conventions on conduct in armed conflicts.