The first child soldiers this year were released by Colombia’s demobilizing Marxist FARC rebels, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The ICRC reported that “various boys and girls” were in transit from FARC disarmament zones to a center run by the international children’s agency UNICEF. The Red Cross did not reveal the number of children who have been released.
“This first release of 2017 represents a significant step for solidifying that to which the parties had agreed,” said Christoph Harnisch, the chief of the ICRC’s regional delegation in a statement.
Harnisch added that the ICRC would “continue facilitating operations similar to this one that will take place in the next weeks.”
The ICRC statement added that “this way the first exit of minors from the upland areas, as agreed in recent weeks, has been satisfactorily completed.”
The humanitarian organization said the children would first be evaluated medically before being taken to transitional shelters operated by UNICEF, according to the National Rehabilitation Council (CNR).
Under the terms of the agreement between the FARC and the government, guerrilla members under the age of 15 will be handed over to Colombia’s Family Welfare Agency while those of 16 and older will go through a transitional justice system that is currently passing through Congress.
This temporary justice system will pardon all minors not accused of human rights violations and allow lowered sentences for minors who did commit war crimes like homicide or rape.
The FARC has long been criticized for the use of minors in the war against the state they’ve been waging since 1964.
The use of child soldiers under 15 is a violation of international humanitarian law and one of the most common war crimes committed by the guerrillas in their half-a-century existence.
Up until Saturday’s release, the FARC had turned over a mere 13 minors, according to the government.
While over the past decades the guerrillas have been accused of massively recruiting children, they have only admitted to having two dozen in their demobilizing and disarming ranks.
Leaders of the group will have to stand trial for the recruitment of children, a war crime, once a transitional justice system takes forces.