MADRE recently completed a shadow report of human rights abuses in Colombia, which was presented to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in July 2010 in conjunction with their review of Colombia’s human rights record. Researchers from MADRE conducted over 30 interviews with former child solders from the capital city of Bogotá and the city of Pereira. The age of recruitment ranged from 10 to 17 years of age and participation varied through most of the identified armed groups in Colombia.
Recruitment stories ranged from joining armed groups voluntarily due to abandonment, being orphaned, or fleeing domestic or sexual violence or other issues at home. Some children were lured into joining armed groups with promises of a better life only to find the promises were false and that they faced the punishment of death if they tried to escape.
Since 2006, the Attorney-General’s Office has found 109 bodies of childrenmainly victims of armed groupsin clandestine graves. According to testimonies of former child soldiers, children recruited by armed groups were frequently killed for “insubordination” ranging from stealing food from the group’s reserves to trying to escape.
Here is the story of one Colombian child soldier and the trauma she endured:
“My mother was 15 when she first fell in love. She had me when she turned 16 but only took care of me for four months before leaving me with my father and my grandmother. My dad left me a month later. I lived with my grandmother and studied and worked. I spent almost all of my childhood working. I sold things like food and toilet paper in the street. We lived in a neighborhood called La Esperanza, in the southern part of Bogotá.
I was seven when my grandmother fell ill. I was already in the 5th grade but I had to work in a bakery to earn money while my grandmother was in the hospital. Later, I started begging for money because I couldn’t make ends meet.
A week after I turned eight, my grandmother died. I became homeless but I still worked and went to school. When I turned 11, I decided that I could either go on living in the street, or I could join the guerrillas. I went to where they were and did basic training for five days.
They gave me a gun and taught me how to use it. They told me that life would be hard with them and that they don’t get paid anything for what they do. I told myself, “Life here is easier than in the street. Stay.” After basic training, the big guys from the army came to the camp. My first order was to pick up a little dog and hold it. They shot at me and killed the dog. After that, I became tougher.
When it was my turn to kill someone, I always hid my face because I was afraid. I went to bed dreaming of the people I had killed.
War is something terrible you do to people who don’t want to be guerrillas. These people are stuck in the middle and they are killed by the soldiers for saying things like, “You are guerrillas, you are assholes,” or whatever.
One day they made me kill an old man but I couldn’t do it. They sentenced me to death so I had to run away.
The guerrillas were my family but because I betrayed them, they wanted to kill me. They were a family that didn’t forgive.”