The Colombian government has launched a series of television adverts aimed at preventing children from joining the leftist guerrilla group the FARC.
The public awareness campaign — entitled “Stop, I want to be free” — is aimed at parents whose children might be at risk of signing up. Poverty, abuse and neglect at home are common drivers in the recruitment process, which is usually voluntary.
The launch of the campaign was attended by two demobilized guerrillas who were recruited as children. “Carmenza” ran away from home at age 11 to escape an abusive mother. She found herself working with explosives for the FARC. She became pregnant, and when her commanders found out, she was forced to abort, six months in.
“Carmenza”, who deserted the FARC two months ago, said, “I traded away my youth and for what? I traded it for nothing.”
Another former guerrilla, “Camilo”, said he joined the FARC soon after the death of his father, on a night he had been drinking. He said, “I was recruited at age 13 and stayed for 17 years. They said I was fighting for Colombia, for national sovereignty. Most children are manipulated with the ideology into bearing arms.”
According to Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon, around 13% of the 24,000 FARC members who have defected were recruited when they were minors.
He said the departments of Caqueta, Antioquia, Cudinamarca and Choco have the highest rates of child recruitment.