Colombian Ministry of Defense Initiatives Help Juveniles Resist Recruitment by Illegal Groups
By Dialogo December 10, 2015RECRUITING MINORS FOR ILLEGAL ARMED GROUPS HAPPENS MORE IN REGIONS THAT DONâ€™T HAVE A MILITARY PRESENCE IN COLOMBIA. THERE IS NO CHILDHOOD OR ADOLESCENCE. THE FARC COMMAND IS ALL THERE IS â€œEASTERN BLOC ARMING RIOS EPLâ€ THAT IS WHERE the Demobilized Humanitarian Aid Group (GAHD in Spanish) is, it is part of the same initiative to keep young people from joining illegal organizations. ONE WHERE RECRUITMENT IS FORCED: LA VICTORIA AMAZONAS, GIRIGIRIMO.
INDIGENOUS ETHNICITY:TUYUCA. BARAZANO -YURUTI-GUANANO- SUPPORT THEM
These campaigns really need to reach areas as far away as possible from the municipal capital cities because that is where these outlaw organized groups are constantly showing up and therefore these actions never reach those areas, which makes it easy for criminal groups to increase their ranks with minors.
Colombia’s Ministry of Defense regularly holds events to prevent outlaw groups from recruiting minors, and 2015 was no different.
As part of the “Enough! I’m Free Here” campaign, which seeks to keep minors out of Colombia’s armed conflict, the Commander’s Advisory Group (GAC) is conducting the “Play for Life” initiative. A separate program, “A Dream 2,600m Closer to the Stars,” which is led by the Group for Humanitarian Aid to the Demobilized (GAHD, for its Spanish acronym), is part of the same initiative to prevent young people from joining illegal organizations.
Security authorities provide these prevention campaigns for the highest-risk populations in departments where illegal armed groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN), street gangs, and drug-trafficking organizations operate. The campaigns are held throughout the country, in the departments of Antioquia, Arauca, Caquetá, Cauca, Guaviare, Meta, Norte de Santander, and Putumayo, with the endorsement and support of the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare, the Police for Children and Adolescents, and local authorities.
The FARC, ELN, local gangs, and narco-trafficking groups have recruited juveniles for decades, often using threats of violence against youths or their families to recruit. They also are deceptive, promising money, cars, firearms, and a glamorous lifestyle if the young people join their ranks.
Countering recruitment efforts by illegal groups
The “Play for Life” campaign counters these recruitment efforts by teaching young people the values of following the law and staying away from gangs, organized crime, violence, and drugs. Since 2011, defense officials have held sporting contests, movie screenings, cultural events, and workshops every month in a different region to educate the public about illegal recruitment activities and prevent minors from being enticed by illegal armed groups.
This year, the Ministry of Defense has spent $304,830 to hold 640 “Play for Life” activities for 2,810 minors.
“Participants from different rural schools mingle and form teams that represent different values, such as friendship, responsibility, and respect,” explained Colonel Mauricio Cote, the director of GAC’s Recruitment Prevention Group. “The idea is for all to have fun as a community and to play games that will teach them to defend their values.
“For this campaign to become a reality, we first had to conduct a study of the region. On many occasions, the difficulty lies in the fact that people still cling to the ideology of the insurgents, and any intervention conducted by the Army will be regarded as suspicious,” he said. “However, this campaign hopes to promote tolerance and the value of keeping children in their homes. Because of that, all communities end up happy.”
‘A dream 2,600m closer to the stars’
“A Dream 2,600m Closer to the Stars” offers youths living in Colombia’s most isolated communities an all-expense paid trip to Bogotá so they can see other possibilities that life has to offer and broaden their horizons.
The campaign’s name is derived from the elevation of the Colombian capital, which is 2,600 meters above sea level. Symbolically, Bogotá also represents a completely different world – close to the stars – for those living in the most far-flung rural communities.
“We reach communities that are practically cut off from the outside world, where guerrilla and paramilitary groups operate and make promises to the people that, in the end, they will not be able to keep,” Col. Cote stated.
For two weekends a month since April 2015, the GAC has hosted 560 youths between the ages of 15 and 17 in Bogotá, where they’ve visited museums, attended movies and amusement parks, tried different foods, and learned about different neighborhoods as part of the Ministry of Defense’s $243,864 investment.
“It’s at these ages that children start to think seriously about what they want to do with their lives,” Col. Cote stated. “It is also the time in which they can get the most out of a visit to the capital because they will remember that they will have better options in life if they steer clear of violence.”
Minors disentangled from armed conflict
While there are no tools to calculate the precise effectiveness of these prevention programs, there are indications they are having a positive impact.
The Ministry of Defense has estimated that fewer and fewer minors have joined the ranks of insurgent groups in recent years. In 2015, 212 minors – the majority of whom were between 15 and 17 years of age – were rescued by security forces from such groups or left on their own, according to the GAHD. Of those, 159 had belonged to FARC, 52 to the ELN, and one to a dissident group.
The minors who join these groups often do so because of the precarious conditions of their communities, which are home to ongoing shootouts between groups engaged in turf wars and a lack of economic opportunities.
In light of these pressures, minors never truly join illegal organizations voluntarily, according to the study “Like Lambs among Wolves: On the Use and Recruitment of Children and Adolescents in the Context of Armed Conflict and Criminality in Colombia,” conducted by a Colombian political scientist and newspaper columnist with the support of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The study reported illegal armed groups rely on child labor, as minors are put on the front lines during combat and comprise the largest labor base in the black market economy.
Using the data provided by the more than 30,000 demobilized persons in the reintegration process, the Colombian Agency for Reintegration (ACR) found that approximately 12,000 people were under the age of 18 when they joined the ranks of outlawed groups. Although there isn’t comprehensive data regarding the total number of minors recruited, figures suggest that between 7,000 to 18,000 minors were linked to armed rebel groups until 2014, according to the report “Comprehensive Reparation for Children and Adolescent Victims of Illicit Recruitment in Colombia,” published by the International Center for Transitional Justice.