Forced recruitment of children and teenagers by armed groups has more than doubled in the first five months of 2020 compared with the same period last year. The closure of schools due to the coronavirus pandemic has made children more vulnerable to armed groups, according to a new report by the COALICO organisation which monitors the impact and involvement of children and young people in conflict.
While 60 children were forcibly recruited by paramilitary and other armed groups between January and June 2019, there were 128 documented cases up to 13 May this year, an increase of 113 per cent. In April alone, 31 minors were affected. The majority of cases have occurred in Colombia’s Pacific coast regions and in border zones such as Catatumbo and Arauca.
The closure of schools has seen a significant rise in cases, the report says, particularly in rural areas where access to education has been greatly reduced due to a lack of internet coverage and infrastructure. Amid high levels of structural poverty, many children are required to work to support the family, thereby further exposing them to risk. Parents have also been unable to supervise their children as they need to work.
Armed groups, which in many regions have expanded their control since the coronavirus crisis began, are widely present in many of these same zones. Aside from intimidation, these groups can offer material benefits far beyond what young people can obtain elsewhere, including payments. For those whose families are struggling, the need can be difficult to resist. The armed forces have also forced children to work as informants in their communities.
Meanwhile, more than 7,000 minors have been affected by violence this year. Alongside cases of homicide, such as the children of social activists and trade unionists killed in attacks, children and teenagers have faced forced displacement, the occupation or closure by armed groups of essential facilities such as clinics and schools, sexual violence and physical attacks.