Colombia’s largest, but demobilizing rebel group FARC has so far surrendered 57 child soldiers, more than double the “no more than 25” it said to have in its ranks ahead of the peace process.
In a press release, the Red Cross said it had received another 16 children on Sunday at multiple camps where the FARC members are in the process of demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR).
In June last year, FARC commander Delix Antonio Muñoz, a.k.a. “Pastor Alape,” claimed the FARC had “between 20 and 25” children in its guerrilla ranks.
Colombia’s Defense Minister, Luis Carlos Villegas, said in May last year, the guerrillas would surrender some 170 child soldiers.
“With the two groups of children UNICEF has received today, we count a total of 57 adolescents who have been surrendered from the FARC ranks since September 10, 2016.
#ÚLTIMAHORA → Hoy recibimos a 16 menores de edad en dos Zonas Veredales. Ya son 57 los adolescentes entregados desde septiembre de 2016.
— CICR Colombia (@CICR_co) April 2, 2017
According to Colombia’s Prosecution General’s Office, individual FARC commanders are facing criminal charges before a transitional justice tribunal for the recruitment of more than 12,000 child soldiers since 1975.
Many of these child soldiers have since either grown up or were killed in combat with either state of paramilitary forces.
The prosecution said the FARC “systematically” recruited child soldiers until it banned the practice in February 2015.
The real prevalence of the use of child soldiers will not be known until further into the peace process as each recruitment of a child soldier counts for one war crime, illegal armed group are generally hesitant opening the books on child recruitment ahead of court proceedings.
When the AUC demobilized between 2003 and 2006, the state-loyal paramilitary group surrendered 450 children with some 31,000 supposed members of the group.
However, the Inspector General’s office and non-government organizations calculated the AUC had between 2,000 and 3,000 children in their ranks.
Many of these children got “lost” because, in the hope not to be prosecuted for their recruitment, AUC commanders simply sent children home and in some cases assassinated them to erase evidence of their existence and recruitment.
The children who are released, are put under custody of Colombia’s family welfare agency ICBF and will be returned to their parents, while receiving psychological support and other benefits for war crime victims.