Children of War. (Features)
Herrera Tellez, Adriana, Hemisphere
More children than soldiers have been affected by the armed conflict in Colombia. As the violence has intensified, children have gone from being indirect victims to virtual prisoners of war. UNICEF estimates that 6,000 boys and girls have been recruited into the ranks of one or another side in the fighting.
"When children reach the age of four they start being trained as couriers to carry messages between the members of armed groups," says Julian Aguirre, director of a social reinsertion program for minors at the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare (ICBF). "At the age of seven they are taught minor logistical tasks, and by 13 they are ready to become combatants."
These are Colombia's children of war.
"In a context of continuing violence, the situation becomes normal," Aguirre adds. "Some of these children come from families caught up in the dynamics of the conflict in such regions as Magdalena Medio, Casanare and Arauca."
According to the ICBF's director, Juan Manuel Urrutia, 70% of the children his institute works with have links to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which considers anyone above the age of 15 an adult. Many children claim to have joined the guerrillas voluntarily, but later found it almost impossible to leave.
The guerrillas also engage in forced recruitment. For example, it is common for them to demand that families have one of their children report for training or temporary service every two weeks. This obligation not only uproots young people from their communities--in general, they are sent on duty far away from their homes--but also from their personal development, and childhood itself.
The practice of using minor-age combatants is not limited to the guerrillas. Colombia's Ombudsman reports that up to half of some units of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) are minors. According to Urrutia, the paramilitaries have a more mercenary focus and recruit adults with a $250 monthly salary, far above the earnings of many Colombians. Apparently, the organization does not find it worth its while to waste its resources on minors, who are less effective militarily. In a 1999 interview with the television network Caracol, however, the founder of the AUC, Carlos …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Children of War. (Features). Contributors: Herrera Tellez, Adriana - Author. Journal title: Hemisphere. Publication date: Fall 2002. Page number: 16+. © 1999 Latin American and Caribbean Center. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.