The Colombian government must redouble its efforts to prevent illegal armed groups from recruiting children, at a time when it is pushing for peace and surrender agreements with rebels and criminal gangs, the International Crisis Group said on Friday, warning that the addition of minors is increasing.
The leftist president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, promotes a policy of “total peace” with which he seeks to end almost six decades of an armed conflict that left 450,000 dead between 1985 and 2018 alone.
Although violence decreased after a bilateral ceasefire with four illegal armed groupsthese organizations are taking advantage of that lull to further entrench themselves in communities across the country, the Crisis Group said in a report, including through the recruitment of minors.
“By all indications, recruitment has increased since the announcement of the all-out peace policy,” Elizabeth Dickinson, Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia, told Reuters.
Recruitment of minors allows armed groups to increase their military might and slows down resistance from the children’s families and friends, who hope that one day they will be able to return, according to the report.
Children as young as 12 “are being sent to the front lines,” according to the report, citing interviews with residents, human rights groups and army officials.
The office of the Colombian government’s high commissioner for peace did not respond to a request for comment.
More than 16,000 minors were recruited by armed groups in Colombia between 1985 and 2019, according to a report last year by the Truth Commission.
But the commission said that number was probably low and estimated that the true number could be higher than 40,000.
The Colombian Institute for Family Welfare (ICBF) has documented 1,166 cases of child recruitment since 2016, but Crisis Group said in the report that this figure was also likely underreported.
The ICBF said in response to the report that it is aware of a sustained increase in the recruitment of minors in recent years and admitted a 141% increase between 2021 and 2022 in the need for its administrative program to restore rights.
At least 70 minors were recovered by the Colombian Armed Forces during the first five months of Petro’s presidency, the report revealed.