by Mariana on 19 Aug 2012 | Comments
By Tania Deigni and Mariana Rodríguez Pareja
Last week, we featured an article on the verdict of the International Criminal Court (ICC) against former Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the first person to be indicted and sentenced by the ICC. As commander of the Force patriotique pour la libération du Congo [Patriotic Force for the Liberation of Congo] (FPLC), he was convicted for “enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 years […] and using them to participate actively in hostilities.”
As highlighted in the article, Child Soldiers International found that the recrutiment of child soldiers happens in around 18 different countries, and no matter the level of incorporation of a child in armed services, it is a danger to the child and illegal under international (and most national) laws. In all these cases, children are forced to fight, in some cases at gunpoint. The sad reality is that once a child soldier is recruited, it is extremely difficult for him or her to escape. Certain few have managed to escape, but the vast majority of children who try to escape or desert are executed. There are no arrest warrants, no trials, and no convictions for the recruiters. There is no accountability, only total impunity.
NGOs in Colombia have been working tirelessly to shed visibility on the problem of the recruitment of child soldiers in Colombia. This crime is invisible to a great part of Colombia’s society, which is misinformed and at times uneducated on the issue of child soldiers. Many Colombians believe this crime only happens in Africa, and are unaware that kids are being kidnapped a few blocks away from their homes, from their schools, from their communities, and being forced to live these nightmares.
The FARC and other groups involved in the internal conflict that has been going on for almost 40 years, have allegedly recruited children as young as 7 or 8 and forced them into combat. Girls are being raped, and some become pregnant; after giving birth, they are beaten and sometimes killed. There are gangs composed of children under 18 years old, who carry guns and go on killing rampages, eliminating all who come in their way. According to consulted journalists, some view child soldiers as benevolently aiding in controlling drug trafficking.
“We were poor, very poor […] We did not have anything to eat. My mom suffered a lot […] And you, you get desperate.” This testimony abounds from a former child soldier, who continued: “When you are poor, you are anybody to nobody.”
This child joined the FARC when he was 10 years old, after losing two of his nine brothers to an unknown disease, one of his sisters went missing, and his oldest brother was killed. He used to go to school, very early in the morning and returned home after midday to work in the country. One day, he went to a ‘reunion’ in the mountains with his neighbours. Once there, FARC rebels asked him what side he was. Thus followed the end of his childhood as he knew it; he was recruited to fight.
According to previously released information, there are at least 18,000 children members of armed groups and gangs. Furthermore, Colombian journalist Natalia Springer for El Tiempo noted that all the girls and boys recruited belong to the poorest faction (12.6 %) of the Colombian population. And while most of the recruited children are born to peasant parents (69%), recruitment in cities has raised: within the last 4 years, it has augmented 17 times.
The average age to be recruited is 12 years old, 57% of them are boys and 43% girls. Indigenous kids are in positions of exterme vulnerability, since they have 674 more chances of being directly affected by the armed conflict, recruited, or used by an illegal armed group or by a gang.
The issue of child soldiers has been raised numerous times by various NGOs and activists. Most recently, on 15 August 2012, Colombian journalist Natalia Springer released a 120 page report highlighting the issue of child soldiers in Colombia. The report contains details of the recruitment process and testimonies collected by a group of 80 experts, who worked for around 4 years in the field. In addition, it sheds light on the tasks that children were forced to do, such as carrying corpses or body parts until they would rot so that the children would “get used to the smell of death.” Other tasks included performing various violent exercises, during which the child soldiers ended up killing each other in fake ambushes.
Fighting, killing, trafficking information, and acting as bodyguards for their superiors are not the only tasks these children must perform: girls are forced to sexually please their superiors and their comrades outside the organization. Pregnancy is banned and some girls die when trying to escape to avoid having an abortion.
These are just some facts that were collected by this brave group of experts, and it leads us to call again for the ICC – the sole permanent international criminal court capable of investigating and trying these crimes – to act, especially given that the Colombian judiciary is not addressing these crimes.
The crime is present, the gravity is clear, the impunity is evident.
It is time for the ICC to act in Colombia.
Tania Deigni obtained a BA in Political Science from the University of Florida, currently pursuing nursing studies.
Mariana Rodriguez Pareja is the Director of the Human Rights Program at Asuntos del Sur @maritaerrepe