Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Colombian children are still being recruited by the warring factions in the country's civil conflict, a report by Unicef and the government has found

Jeremy McDermott:

Even worse is the news that they are entering the ranks of the illegal armies as young as eight years old.

Children are in the front line of Colombia's 43-year civil conflict.

The new report is based on interviews of minors that had left the fighting, either by desertion or by being captured by the security forces.

The report, which has been produced by Unicef working with the Colombian People's Defender's Office, makes disturbing reading.

The average age at which minors are recruited fell in 2005 from 13 to just 12 years of age.

Females, who make up to 30% of the ranks of the guerrilla armies, suffered the worst abuse, with over half raped or forced to have sexual relations, often with commanders.

The report also showed that the minors were capable of great violence.

Many admitted to killing, mutilating and even torturing enemies.

Recruitment of minors was occasionally forced but more often children wanted to escape oppressive or dysfunctional home lives, attracted by the status of wearing a uniform and carrying a gun.

A significant percentage joined out of vengeance and ended up killing a parent or relative.

What is clear is that the violence is affecting a whole generation of Colombia's youth, particularly those that live in the countryside where the war rages.

There is no end to the fighting in sight and Colombia will see problems in the future as these children grow into adults traumatised by and hardened to violence.

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