21/11/2011 - Defence Minister: “the majority of girls who are recruited by illegal armed groups (the FARC) are forced to become sexual slaves, in many cases the lovers of commanders."
In the ranks of Colombia’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), child soldiers make up around 13 percent of the 8,000-strong force.
According to the Colombian Defence Minister, Juan Carlos Pinzon, the average age for children to be recruited into the rebel forces is 12. Some of the children are forced to join, but others claimed that they joined the rebels to escape sexual or physical abuse at home.
Some were also recruited by friends or people that they knew. Rebel groups also hold meetings in schools and other public areas in order to lure children into their ranks with the false promises of adventure, escape, food and money.
Poverty is a strong influence on the children who do join, especially with the poverty rate at 60 percent of the population and few employment opportunities, particularly in rural areas.
However, former child soldiers reported that when they did arrive at the rebel jungle camps, they found that their lives were very different from the one they has been promised. Many spend their days going hungry, carrying heavy equipment, and watching their friends become injured or killed.
The most common activities child soldiers are recruited for are to act as messengers, porters, spies and cooks. Some are also trained in light combat, such as using assault rifles, grenades, mortars and planting land-mines.
Speaking at a press conference, Defence Minister Pinzon stated that “the majority of girls who are recruited by illegal armed groups (the FARC) are forced to become sexual slaves, in many cases the lovers of commanders, or they are simply seen as objects of desire to motivate guerrillas.”
It has also been reported that women and girls who become pregnant are forced to have abortions under dangerous conditions in jungle camps, often with little medicine and medical care available.
Indigenous children, often living in isolated and remote jungle regions, where rebels tend to have more power are particularly at risk of being forcibly recruited.
In order to counter the recruitment tactics used by the rebel groups, and government has recently launched a new ad campaign targeted at preventing child soldier recruitment.
The campaign includes a series of television ads aimed at educating parents on the home situations which put their children at a high risk for joining the rebels. The ads point out that children are more likely to join if they suffer from poverty, abuse and neglect at home.