After more than 53 years of brutal conflict in Colombia, the country is finally on its way to peace. Over the next six months, the FARC’s (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) more than 7,000 guerrilla soldiers will turn over their weapons to United Nations observers.
Among these soldiers there are also children who have been recruited into the conflict. Exact numbers are unknown, but since 1999, more than 3,600 children have been released from the FARC guerilla movement, according to the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare.
FARC committed to releasing all children from their ranks in February, 2016 and released a group of 13 children in September, but many more children are suspected to still be within the ranks.
The average age of children recruited by armed groups decreased from 13.8 years in 2002 to 11.8 years in 2009, according to data from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia. Many of the children are recruited from communities affected by poverty and domestic violence.
“These children were already amongst the most marginalized in Colombia, affected by poverty and violence. Being recruited - or sometimes kidnapped - into armed groups robbed them of all their rights as children, leaving them unprotected and with no access to education or quality healthcare, for example,” states María Paula Martínez, Country Director, Save the Children Colombia.
“We must not forget that they ended up in a war because previously we, as a community, as a society and a state, failed them. They are victims of the war and as a country we must help them feel included, accepted and involved in the peace-building. We will talk about true peace and reconciliation when every last child has had all their rights fulfilled", continues Martínez.
Save the Children works in some of the areas that are most affected by the armed conflict and plan to be actively involved in the reintegration into society of the children being released from the armed forces, who will need special support and protection.
Together with UNICEF and the Norwegian Refugee Council, we are developing a new project scheduled to start in April, 2017. It will support 100 children and young people who were involved with the FARC to successfully reintegrate with their families and communities, to find new work opportunities and to access services from the State, such as healthcare and education.
Furthermore, many of Save the Children’s current programs are already supporting young people to access work to prevent them from engaging with armed groups. In schools and communities, we are promoting a peaceful and non-violent culture, so that children reject violence from an early age.
We are calling on the Colombian State to support the reintegration of children who were involved in the armed conflict and to stand by its commitment made fifteen years ago, through the ratification of an optional Protocol of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to protect children from recruitment into armed forces. Together with partner organizations in Colombia, we are holding up our red hands in the campaign “Red Hands – We are Ready for Peace!” to call for the complete stop to the use of children in conflict.