Colombian guerillas call their child soldiers
"little bees," because they sting before the enemy realizes it's
Tens of thousands of children are being used as soldiers by all
sides to the bloody conflict underway in
Colombia, according to a Human Rights Watch report released today.
Up to thirty percent of some guerrilla units are made up of
children. The number of children in some militias, considered a
training ground for future guerrilla fighters, is reported to be
as high as 85 percent. Although most of Colombia's child soldiers
are over fifteen, all sides are recruiting children younger than
fifteen, in violation of the laws of war. The three sides to the
conflict are guerillas, national security units, and
Human Rights Watch found that child guerrillas are used to
collect intelligence, make and deploy mines, and serve as advance
troops in ambush attacks against paramilitaries, soldiers, and
police officers. Those who manage to escape are considered
deserters and may be subjected to on-the-spot execution.
Colombia's national security forces, including the army and
National Police, include over 15,000 children. Thousands of others
are recruited for civic outreach and placed in war zones in
uniform, at serious risk of attack. The army also captures or
accepts the surrender of children suspected of being guerrillas,
then uses them as guides or informants. These children may be
forced to patrol with troops, take part in combat, collect
intelligence, and deactivate land mines.
Paramilitary units, which often operate in direct coordination
with national security forces and are responsible for some of the
conflict's worst abuses, also include large numbers of children.
Children as young as eight years of age have been seen patrolling
with paramilitaries, and up to 50 percent of some units are made
up of children.
"This use of children is appalling," says Jo Becker, Children's
Rights Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch. "All parties to
the conflict should immediately stop all recruitment of children
under the age of eighteen, and should demobilize all child
soldiers currently in their ranks."
International law prohibits the recruitment of any children
under the age of 15, and an international consensus is building on
behalf of prohibitions on any military recruitment below the age
of 18. Under the new International Criminal Court treaty drafted
in July in Rome, the conscription and use in hostilities of
children under the age of 15 is defined as a war crime, to be
prosecuted by the Court.
In late June, Human Rights Watch, together with Amnesty
International and other leading international nongovernmental
organizations, launched a new Coalition to Stop the Use of Child
Soldiers, which seeks stronger international standards to protect
children from military recruitment and use in armed conflict. The
Coalition is campaigning to raise the minimum age for military
recruitment and participation in armed conflict from 15, set by
existing international law, to 18. The latest research on child
soldiers estimates that more than 300,000 children under 18 years
old are fighting in armed conflicts around the world.