The conflict and forced recruitment: The tragedy of children and youth in Colombia

Marlon Ramirez, Colombia

For more than 50 years, Colombia has been submerged in an armed conflict for various socio-political reasons that has brought various consequences, among them the forced recruitment of children and adolescents, who are kidnapped by both guerrillas and paramilitaries to replace the casualties caused by the conflict and thus be able to continue the fight almost indefinitely. The main victims are peasants and people from small towns, mainly in the departments of Norte de Santander, Meta, Guaviare, Valle del Cauca and Nariño. These victims do not have adequate protection from the Colombian State, leaving them to their own devices.

According to the Victims Unit, as of June 30, 2020, at least 8,624 minors have been linked to armed groups. These include not only the FARC, but currently the ELN, the FARC dissidents and paramilitary strongholds such as the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) and urban criminal groups. This only includes current assets, because figures from the National Center for Historical Memory show that between 1960 and 2016, some 16,879 children were forcibly recruited in the country.

After the FARC guerrilla’s peace signing, and the subsequent consolidation of its political party in 2016, a general demand has been given to party members to recognize the forced recruitment of young people. Given this, former combatant and current senator Julián Gallo acknowledged on September 18, 2020 that the guerrillas forcibly recruited minors during the 50 years of armed conflict in Colombia, but denied that it was a systematic practice. Furthermore, from the mouth of another demobilized member, Colombia had never heard details of one of the most heinous crimes in the internal conflict. That is why it was striking that he ensured that many minors between 15 and 17 years old were part of the ranks of the group. “This situation of children does not make us feel happy or proud” Julián Gallo.

In Colombia, the Political Constitution says that young people must be “protected against all forms of abandonment, physical or moral violence, kidnapping, sale, sexual abuse, labor or economic exploitation and risky work”, and with the forced recruitment of minors, their rights are violated and their safety and constitutional guarantees are put at risk These facts were recorded by the Save The Children Foundation in an annual report that results in the following:

“Half of them and they closely experienced episodes of severe violence such as armed takeovers (51.3%) and massacres (46.3%) in their places of residence, 24.8% mentioned having been victims of forced displacement ( he – she or someone from his family), 37.1% suffered the murder of a family member, 21.9% mentioned that he or his family was the victim of threats and 9.6% mentioned that he or someone in his family was kidnapped “

In conclusion, in the course of war, most of the rights of children and young people are violated both in a psychological, physical and formative way, bringing consequences such as a constant risk to their lives and destroying their freedoms, hindering the development of their childhood. and his normal life. This makes them the main actors in the fight, nullifying the special protection provided by International Humanitarian Law and leaving the constitution as a useless entity and the State as an obsolete institution that does not protect citizens as it is supposed to do.