[dropcap]M[/dropcap]inors under 15 years old will soon leave the ranks of Colombia’s largest guerrilla organization, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. FARC and Colombian government representatives announced the decision Sunday afternoon in a joint statement from Havana, where peace talks between both parties are entering their final stages.
“The delegations of the national government and FARC have arrived at an agreement on the departure of minors under 15 years of age from FARC encampments,” reads a press statement. “The protection of the rights of boys, girls and adolescents involved in armed conflict is a shared priority for the government and FARC.”
Colombia’s government doesn’t have exact numbers on how many children and adolescents have been swept up by illegal armed groups over decades of conflict, but the national welfare institute has collected data on at least 6,000 minors who have left such organizations over the past 17 years. Some 60% of those left the FARC.
According to FARC senior negotiator Iván Márquez, the guerrilla group “received many children in our rank and file during the height of the conflict.” Márquez also demanded that any minors leaving FARC encampments must have all their fundamental rights respected.
So far, the plan to release minors from FARC ranks involves five key components including legal treatment, healthcare and transitional steps. Details are expected to be finalized over the next 15 days.
Reuniting those released from FARC encampments with their families will be a priority, however.
“The exact route of attention is still to be defined,” explained government representatives in a statement Sunday. “One of the agreed upon priorities will be to reintegrate families as quickly as possible.”
In 2015, the FARC agreed not to recruit minors as part of the peace process, but no plan was put in place at the time for handling those children and adolescents who had already joined their ranks.
According to the accord, no former FARC guerrilla under the age of 15 will be tried for crimes. And anyone leaving FARC ranks under the age of 18 will be treated by the government as a victim of the armed conflict.
“Children can never be used as an instrument of war,” said Colombia’s chief negotiator in Havana, Humberto de la Calle. “With this agreement, we are closing a chapter of war in Colombia.”
United Nations monitors have verified at least 198 cases of child recruitment by the FARC in recent years. And minors make up some 35% of those displaced by Colombia’s armed conflict, according U.N. data.
U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Leile Zerrougui congratulated the announcement, calling it “historic.”