Almost 13 million Colombian children are at risk of forced recruitment by illegal armed groups, according to a commission chaired by the country’s Vice President.
The office of Vice President Angelino Garzon released a statement Wednesday saying that in half of the country’s municipalities present a higher risk of forced recruitment to the children living there, and recommended they be a priority for the government to address.
The commission identified the pervasiveness of illegal armed groups, such as guerrilla groups FARC and ELN, as one of twelve risk factors for young Colombians. Earlier this month, authorities claimed that rebels of the FARC’s 16th and 44th fronts entered schools in some 23 villages with the intent of recruiting child soldiers.
Other factors of risk in these municipalities included the presence of illicit crops, high rates of violence, child labor, unsatisfied basic needs and forced displacement.
The staggering figure of nearly 13 million children being at risk of forced recruitment into armed gangs corresponds to approximately 28% of Colombia’s total population, and 79% of the child population.
Garzon called attention to the necessity of the government, the international community, civil society and family “to work together in a responsible manner to guarantee the rights of children so that they can enjoy their adolescence and be converted into citizens that help construct the country.”
The Vice President created the commission, officially known as the “Intersectoral Commission for the Prevention of Recruitment and Use of Children, Adolescents and Young People by organized groups outside the law” with the aim of guiding state policy on the matter.
The recruitment of children is considered a war crime by International Humanitarian Law and Garzon demanded of “illegal armed groups, including FARC and ELN guerrillas, the respect towards the civil population and the immediate freedom of all children that have been recruited by force.”