“Over the past two years, the major cause of displacement has been forced recruitment of indigenous children by illegal armed groups,” an official of the indigenous village Mitu told UNHCR. About 500 families fled their homes last year because their children were about to be recruited.
The regional council of Vaupes (CRIVA) is particularly concerned about the child recruitment of indigenous groups who are at risk of extinction. Three children of the indigenous tribe Pizamira, which has only 50 living members, have been recruited.
“Many parents had gone to the forest to look for their children but they have not managed to bring them back,” an official of CRIVA said.
In 2008, the illegal armed groups recruited 42 indigenous boys and girls, some as young as thirteen. Eleven of them were students at the boarding school Bocas de Yi.
“Most of the kids live here all year long because it is too dangerous to go home and come back again. These children have no real hope and this makes them terribly vulnerable to unscrupulous people who offer other options,” a teacher of the boarding school said.
The forced recruitment is not always violent. Paramilitaries or guerrillas often try to make the youngsters “fall in love” with their ideas by promising a better life. Rather than risk losing their children, many indigenous families choose to flee their lands. Nearly 3000 people, 1% of the population of Vaupes, have so far left their homes.
According to UNHCR, 90 indigenous tribes in Colombia are at risk of forced recruitment and displacement by illegal armed groups.