Children and teenagers are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of armed conflict and other forms of violence. They are often direct victims of serious violations of international humanitarian law such as murder, sexual violence and forced recruitment. But they also suffer indirect consequences, such as being unable to attend school, which in turn increases their vulnerability.
In Colombia, concerns are not restricted to forced recruitment, but extend to minors frequently being used as guides or messengers by the parties to the conflict, placing them in danger of reprisals by the other side. For example, minors are enticed to provide information about the enemy in exchange for gifts or promises. This might seem harmless but can result in serious threats against them and their families. This situation also arises in cities where minors are used by gangs or armed groups.
There are also cases of teenagers, some of whom are very young, who get involved with fighters without being aware of the risks. In addition to the threat to their safety, they are also exposed to sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies, among other risks. The attitude of the higher ranks, who are aware that this goes on and indulge what they see as "natural" behaviour, often encourages this type of behaviour.
A challenge when it comes to measuring the effects and impact on minors is the difficulty of establishing how many people are victims of the various violations. It is also hard to pinpoint the scale of the problem of forced recruitment, in part because victims' families are afraid to report these cases.
They came into my home and took my son away
"They took my son when he was barely a young man. He must be 27 by now. Armed men came to the farm and took him away. During all this time I have seen him only rarely, when neighbours helped us meet in secret. I last saw him three years ago and the last time I had news of him was in 2010, when I received a phone call telling me that my son had been captured. That was many years after he was taken away. I have been looking for him ever since but nobody can tell me anything."
The ICRC's humanitarian response
In 2011, the ICRC dealt with this issue by maintaining a direct, confidential dialogue with the various parties to the conflict. In addition to addressing the recruitment of minors, the ICRC also looked at situations in which armed actors tried to take advantage of the naivety of minors to obtain useful information or intelligence that could then have been used to give them a military advantage over the enemy.
The ICRC also helped reunite 35 minors with their families.