FARC Raises its Minimum Recruitment Age

By Dialogo
March 23, 2015




During decades of operations aimed at combating the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombian authorities have seized secret diaries, indoctrination protocols, propaganda flyers, and even information containing specific methods utilized to recruit children.

Colombian newspaper El Espectador
reported that although the FARC has systematically denied claims regarding child recruitment, it has agreed to raise its minimum recruitment age from 15 to 17 as part of peace agreement talks with the Colombian government.

FARC negotiator Iván Márquez further indicated during follow-on interviews with the Colombian based news media company Caracol
that any children under the minimum recruitment age would be “discharged from the war” within a short period of time as it is not FARC policy to recruit minors in the first place. He also used the moment to promulgate propaganda aimed at discrediting Colombian Military recruitment practices while simultaneously denying any fault by the FARC in this arena.

Rhetoric


In agreeing to raise the minimum recruitment age, Márquez did not miss the chance to denounce State military recruitment as being “forced and favorable to the urban elite who are able to shirk service requirements based on social status.” He further used media attention to condemn the military use of batidas
which are checkpoints that are set up at random by Soldiers. Traditionally, batidas
have been used to determine if Colombian males have defined their military status after finishing secondary school or when reaching the age of 18 as required by law. If those stopped by Soldiers cannot provide justification as to why they have not defined their status, they may be immediately ordered to duty.

Reality


Márquez accuses the Colombian government of forcing military service when in reality it is invoking its right to mandate military conscription which is an established international practice. Per the Colombian constitution, Article 216 clearly states that all Colombians are required to take up arms when necessary to defend national independence and public institutions. Additional guidelines such as law 48 (approved in 1993) clearly outline service requirements which range from 12-24 months. The Colombian government is also clear about age recruitment minimums. The Army's minimum age for enlistees is 19, while the Navy's is 16. Those enlisting under the age of 20 are required to present proof of permission granted by either their parents or their guardian.

Conversely, multiple cases documented by Colombian and international news media sources outline forced FARC recruitment of minors in some of the poorest areas of the country such as Caquetá, Antioquia, Tolima, Vaupés, Cauca, and Putumayo. In fact, the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) reported data indicating that of the 5,075 children demobilized from guerilla groups between 1992 and 2012, 3,000 pertained to the FARC. This is not to say that all demobilized children were forcefully recruited, but it is a known tactic utilized by the FARC.

The way forward


As part of peace talk agreements, Márquez has agreed to release any children under the minimum age of service from FARC ranks, but he stated that there are only 13 fighters younger than 15 years of age currently serving in the group. When questioned by news media source Caracol
about whether these minors were recruited, Márquez stated that the children are likely offspring of current FARC members or possibly joined the organization after being orphaned. He also added that contrary to institutional propaganda and false claims made by those looking to delegitimize the FARC, under no circumstances does the organization resort to forced recruitment. In fact, he stated that this practice would actually be counterproductive to FARC beliefs and that anyone who joins the group is able to do so consciously and voluntarily between the ages of 15 and 30.

Colombian governmental response to FARC age minimum


If the FARC does indeed keep its promise to release children, the ICBF will play a direct role in helping demobilized children re-integrate into society through what is known as a “disengagement process.” As stated by ICBF Director Marco Zuluaga, this would ideally involve a trained professional who would be placed in the home with the child to help with the transition.

Ultimately, the end goal of any reintegration is to avoid the risk of regression and to help the demobilized child soldier become an active part of society. Meanwhile, the Colombian government has welcomed the move made by the FARC to raise the minimum recruitment age from 15 to 17, but President Manuel Santos indicated it is not enough and demanded the release of minors currently in the hands of the FARC. He further expressed angst at why they chose 17 as its age minimum when norms for combat participation are 18 in Colombia. Still, any progress in the ongoing two-year negotiation process is a step in the right direction according to the chief government negotiator.



During decades of operations aimed at combating the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombian authorities have seized secret diaries, indoctrination protocols, propaganda flyers, and even information containing specific methods utilized to recruit children.

Colombian newspaper El Espectador
reported that although the FARC has systematically denied claims regarding child recruitment, it has agreed to raise its minimum recruitment age from 15 to 17 as part of peace agreement talks with the Colombian government.

FARC negotiator Iván Márquez further indicated during follow-on interviews with the Colombian based news media company Caracol
that any children under the minimum recruitment age would be “discharged from the war” within a short period of time as it is not FARC policy to recruit minors in the first place. He also used the moment to promulgate propaganda aimed at discrediting Colombian Military recruitment practices while simultaneously denying any fault by the FARC in this arena.

Rhetoric


In agreeing to raise the minimum recruitment age, Márquez did not miss the chance to denounce State military recruitment as being “forced and favorable to the urban elite who are able to shirk service requirements based on social status.” He further used media attention to condemn the military use of batidas
which are checkpoints that are set up at random by Soldiers. Traditionally, batidas
have been used to determine if Colombian males have defined their military status after finishing secondary school or when reaching the age of 18 as required by law. If those stopped by Soldiers cannot provide justification as to why they have not defined their status, they may be immediately ordered to duty.

Reality


Márquez accuses the Colombian government of forcing military service when in reality it is invoking its right to mandate military conscription which is an established international practice. Per the Colombian constitution, Article 216 clearly states that all Colombians are required to take up arms when necessary to defend national independence and public institutions. Additional guidelines such as law 48 (approved in 1993) clearly outline service requirements which range from 12-24 months. The Colombian government is also clear about age recruitment minimums. The Army's minimum age for enlistees is 19, while the Navy's is 16. Those enlisting under the age of 20 are required to present proof of permission granted by either their parents or their guardian.

Conversely, multiple cases documented by Colombian and international news media sources outline forced FARC recruitment of minors in some of the poorest areas of the country such as Caquetá, Antioquia, Tolima, Vaupés, Cauca, and Putumayo. In fact, the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) reported data indicating that of the 5,075 children demobilized from guerilla groups between 1992 and 2012, 3,000 pertained to the FARC. This is not to say that all demobilized children were forcefully recruited, but it is a known tactic utilized by the FARC.

The way forward


As part of peace talk agreements, Márquez has agreed to release any children under the minimum age of service from FARC ranks, but he stated that there are only 13 fighters younger than 15 years of age currently serving in the group. When questioned by news media source Caracol
about whether these minors were recruited, Márquez stated that the children are likely offspring of current FARC members or possibly joined the organization after being orphaned. He also added that contrary to institutional propaganda and false claims made by those looking to delegitimize the FARC, under no circumstances does the organization resort to forced recruitment. In fact, he stated that this practice would actually be counterproductive to FARC beliefs and that anyone who joins the group is able to do so consciously and voluntarily between the ages of 15 and 30.

Colombian governmental response to FARC age minimum


If the FARC does indeed keep its promise to release children, the ICBF will play a direct role in helping demobilized children re-integrate into society through what is known as a “disengagement process.” As stated by ICBF Director Marco Zuluaga, this would ideally involve a trained professional who would be placed in the home with the child to help with the transition.

Ultimately, the end goal of any reintegration is to avoid the risk of regression and to help the demobilized child soldier become an active part of society. Meanwhile, the Colombian government has welcomed the move made by the FARC to raise the minimum recruitment age from 15 to 17, but President Manuel Santos indicated it is not enough and demanded the release of minors currently in the hands of the FARC. He further expressed angst at why they chose 17 as its age minimum when norms for combat participation are 18 in Colombia. Still, any progress in the ongoing two-year negotiation process is a step in the right direction according to the chief government negotiator.
I don't get it, if the FARC are going to lay down their arms, which means their war activities would end, why do they talk about continuing to recruit people as young as 17 years old? There you can see the FARC's ability to lie. You think the FARC will put down their weapons?
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