For Colombian service members, protecting minors from forced recruitment by criminal groups has become a priority.
“In 2020, the Army rescued some 200 minors that illegal groups had recruited,” General Eduardo Enrique Zapateiro, commander of the Colombian Army, told the press on July 2. “The operations were coordinated with the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman.”
On July 10, Colombia’s Presidential Human Rights Adviser Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez told Diálogo that in November 2019 “the country adopted preventive measures on the recruitment, use, and sexual violence against [minors]; the risk index is quite high in 104 municipalities,” she said.
The Organization of American States’ Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia indicated in a May 18 report that dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the National Liberation Army, and criminal groups like the Clan del Golfo and Los Caparros, all connected to narcotrafficking, are recruiting minors in five of the country’s departments.
“Due to COVID-19, children are not at school; they are in the streets, a situation that criminal groups have used to recruit them,” Colombian Army Major General Juan Carlos Ramírez, 7th Division commander, told Diálogo on July 23. “They offer [money] and give them advances; they give them electronic devices, but once they are at the campsites and want to go back home, they threaten them with retaliation against their families.”
The Army conducts operations in areas where illicit economies converge with narcotrafficking corridors. “We’ve been able to rescue minors there that were already in the ranks of these illegal groups,” Brigadier General Marco Vinicio Mayorga Niño, 3rd Division commander, told Diálogo on July 24. “They are used for narcotrafficking and the main leaders’ security, [to] avoid being a target of the public force.”
“The most vulnerable population are teenagers between 13 and 16 years old, with an average participation of 16.5 months in these criminal groups. Data shows that 70.1 percent are men, while 29.9 percent are women,” Gutiérrez concluded.