Child Soldiers

How much do you know about the ongoing conflict in Colombia? Before I began to study it, my vague ideas including camouflaged men in the jungle who kidnapped people and supported themselves by growing coca.

While that’s true, there is a lot more involved. For Colombia, the past eight years under President Uribe’s charge have been good. Many places, including the capital of Bogota, are safe again. The guerillas and paramilitary groups are in retreat. But rural regions still suffer under the totalitatrian rule of these groups.

When the guerilla movements began, they were based on the Marxist ideology. For many people living in the rural areas now, they know nothing of the ideology. They only remember the years of opression and death that they’ve suffered under so-called communist rule.

Many residents want nothing to do with the guerillas. They are terrified of them. However, the guerillas’ numbers are dwindling, and they need new recruits. So their solution is to forcibly recruit children from the communities. Each family is required to give one child to the “movement.” and if these aren’t enough, others are kidnapped or abducted at gunpoint. Children as young as 6 are taken. These kids are used drug mules, as sweepers for clearing mines and as human shields in combat.

Of course, many parents would do anything to keep their kids from this fate. Those who have family or other connections send their children to safe haven in Bogota. Those who don’t scramble to find any safe place.

I visited a children’s home in a distant barrio of Bogota for children who have been forcibly recruited and are looking for a way out of their violent lifestyle. It’s run by the government.

The home is discreetly hidden from the neighborhood by a thick metal gate. For their own safety, the kids can’t leave. They get all the schooling and life skills they need on the compound. At age 18, they graduate from the program to make their way in the world.

The home was an eye opening experience. Though the children are removed from the violence, they are still indoctrinated with the same socialist thinking that initially caused the guerilla problem.

The home is organized in communist structure. The current mayor is a 17-year-old boy. He has deputies who help him maintain control. Each member of the home is subject to their wills. Jobs are assigned according to the mayor’s whim. He enforces punishment when his will isn’t satisfied. There is no room for creative thinking, for new ideas, for problem-solving.

These kids might be free from guerilla control, but they aren’t free from the very philosophy that drives the armed groups fighting a brutal war for control of Colombia.

These homes aren’t the answer.


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