Colombia’s FARC dissidents kidnap 10 child combatants of ELN

Child combatants of ELN as hostages of FARC dissidents.

The forced recruitment of children as combatants with the National Liberation Army (ELN) and FARC dissidents continues to be among the most horrific and illicit activities of illegal armed groups operating in Colombia.

This week, reports from Arauca, confirmed that FARC dissidents kidnapped 10 youngsters who were fighting for the ELN and victims of a violent turf war between the two groups in this oil-rich department. In a video released by the FARC dissidents, the 10 youngsters can be seen wearing camouflage and the insignia of the Maoist guerrilla. The video is the latest proof that children continue to be recruited for the country’s armed conflict and direct violation of international humanitarian law.

According to the UN, illegal armed groups in Colombia recruited at least 130 boys and girls, between the ages of 11 and 17, in 2022. The UN estimates that some 250,000 children, as young as 7 years old, are currently involved in armed conflicts worldwide. Children are recruited as soldiers, messengers, spies, and even forced into various support roles within armed groups. The majority of these cases occur in conflict-ridden regions like Africa and the Middle East. Conflict-related sexual violence further compounds the horrors faced by child combatants, especially young girls.

Various non-governmental organizations in Colombia are working to rescue and rehabilitate child combatants, providing them with psycho-social support, education, and vocational training to reintegrate them into society. Yet despite these efforts, the Ombudsman has warned that this year, child recruitment increased 53% between January and March, with 23 confirmed cases compared to 15 over the same period last year.

While progress was made with the 2016 signing of the Final Accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrilla, the recent video and evidence that the FARC dissident group Estado Mayor Central – EMC – under command of alias “Iván Mordisco”, is kidnapping and sending children to the front lines underscores the President Gustavo Petro’s “total peace” or “national reconciliation” agenda.

On Tuesday, Minister of Defense Iván Velásquez condemned the practice of child recruitment and confirmed that one of the hostages is a 14-year-old indigenous girl injured in combat. “No illegal armed group can justify child recruitment for war,” he said. The fighting in Arauca has resulted in at least 15 dead combatants of both ELN and EMC.

The revelation that ELN continues to enlist children in the armed conflict, considered a war crime and crime against humanity, is the latest proof that the country’s oldest guerrilla continues to violate international law despite having recently agreed to a bilateral ceasefire with the Colombian Government. The hostage-taking by FARC dissidents comes as this criminal organization has started exploratory talks with the Petro administration to de-escalate violence in rural areas and attacks against civilians