Candidates in northeast Colombia have gone to extreme levels to gain votes by exploiting impoverished children, local media reported Thursday.
According to a report published by Cucuta 7 Dias newspaper on Thursday, dirty politics reached a new low in and around the city of Cucuta on election day as children from poor neighborhoods were paid by candidates to escort voters to the polls, making sure they voted “correctly.”
This is a new addition to the list of tactics taken by politicians to rig the elections in their favor by buying votes.
“One of my students told how the leader on the area had arranged a daily payment of $34 with his mum. They could choose cash or the equivalent amount in goods. The child had been trained with other children in the area for two months, and they hadn’t said anything in class because they were told that if they said anything, they wouldn’t get the money,” a teacher from the village of Juan Atalaya told Cucuta 7 Dias, adding that “they were trained to work all of election day, marking ballot papers for the elderly, and accompanying adults to vote, making sure they voted for the same candidate.”
According to the report, candidates targeted the poorest neighborhoods in Cucuta seeking the approval of parents living in desperate conditions, by providing them with 20 days of supposedly secure income. Candidates negotiated a price with parents depending on the amount of children they could offer to help, preferably aged between seven and 11.
“After class they would meet with the children secretly in a house near the same neighborhood where they were trained for the elections. Because not all of the children were suitable for the job, before starting the training they were subject to a selection process, where according to them, they chose the most intelligent, bold and lively children,” continued the teacher.
One of the conditions that the children had to meet to keep the job, was that they learn how to lie to the police if they were asked any questions about who they were accompanying to the polling station. According to the teacher, the nervous children who couldn’t lie were kicked off the training program.
Once trained up, the children were given information about how to vote and how much time to spend on each vote. Every two hours they would be rotated and sent to another polling station so as not to arouse any suspicion among the police.
The children were reportedly given a group of five to ten adults to accompany, and the child would then report if they had voted correctly. If they had, they would receive the agreed payment by the candidate. With the elderly, the children would mark the ballot paper for them.
“Another student that told us that they had not been paid yet. Today he had to go and collect the missing money,” added the teacher.
According to residents in the neighborhoods that were preyed upon by the candidates, hundreds of supermarket goods were ready and waiting to be exchanged for locals’ votes. Adults who had been escorted by the children who preferred this form of payment were taken to the storage houses and would collect an amount of food worth the agreed value.