Nearly 5,500 children recruited by illegal armed groups in Colombia as members and fighters have since demobilized or escaped from a life of armed violence and now face the real possibility of returning home, reported a national news outlet Monday.
Colombia’s Institute for the Well-Being of Families (ICBF) is in the process of designing a program that would pave the way for former child soldiers to return to there homes after the conflict is resolved, according to Caracol Radio.
“We have reintegrated kids that have managed to escape or through some mechanism have been able to get out of the conflict,” said ICBF director Marco Zuluaga, in an interview with the radio station. Reuniting these children with their families, however, as difficult.
“Today we can not do it, because if these children are handed over to their family, they will return to military activity or we put them in a high risk situation,” continued Zuluaga.
The ICBF’s plan advocates for a trained professional to be placed with the child when they return to their homes to help the transition period into everyday society. This professional can advise the family and monitor the child to make sure that there is no risk of regression.
Prior to this initiative, there was no plan in place, and children would be given immediately to their families after leaving the conflict. Zuluaga emphasized that a strategy is needed to ensure that the children are at home, and that they are adjusting properly.
“If one is given back to the protection of a home and has someone to go with to the family, there is going to be more possibilities for healing those wounds through love,” said the director.
Children soldiers are a significant problem facing Colombia’s government on both ends: on the recruitment end and on the demobilizing end.
To date there have been a reported 5,384 children demobilized from illegal armed groups: 3,230 from the FARC, 1,054 from paramilitiaries, and 815 from the ELN, with many more child soldiers still in active combat situations.