Forced recruitment of minors in Colombia by guerrillas and paramilitaries is rising drastically and is now a principal reason for families to flee their homes.
Few statistics exist, but one leading organization estimates there are between 8,000 and 13,000 children in the ranks of the country’s illegal armed groups, reported BBC Mundo.
“It is estimated that 30 percent of the members of illegal armed groups are minors,” said María Clara Melguizo, spokeswoman for the Coalition Against Boy, Girl and Youth Involvement in the conflict.
The average age of recruitment, once 13.5 years, has dropped to between 11 and 12 years, said Melguizo.
Forced recruitment “by all the actors” of the war, has become a leading cause of forced displacement in Colombia, which has the world’s second largest displaced population, said the Human Rights and Displacement Ministry.
“I took my child out of the boat and confronted the (FARC) guerrilla commander. I told him: if you want, take me, but not my child. I prefer to live hungry in Bogotá, but have my children with me,” a 40-year-old displaced mother from eastern Colombia told BBC Mundo.