As in the issue of sexual violence, about which I wrote in a previous blog, a discussion stripped of prejudice can be much more useful, if we want to reach reconciliation and build a better country. This, of course, is a thorny issue. Indignation when we deal with minors, is big, though not without a certain amount of hypocrisy when we look at the disproportionality the issue of children is handled with when it refers to children in the FARC-EP on the one hand and the exploitative situation, poverty and misery children are subjected to in Colombia, on the other.
War is not a suitable place to build a life for anyone, less for children. But their arrival in the ranks of the FARC-EP has been a consequence of precisely that difficult situation of children in rural areas (and also in cities) of Colombia; not its cause. However, we understand that explain the causes is not enough and that concrete actions are needed to solve them.
One of these concrete steps was the announcement on February 12, 2015, not to incorporate henceforth under 17 in the guerrilla ranks.
Another measure was taken on February 16, 2015, when we announced the withdrawal of a group of under 15 years from our ranks. To this end the insurgency has proposed a protocol containing a 'program of foster care of under 15 who were in the FARC-EP camps to new hosting families and communities'.
This protocol, which represents our vision of solution, and was presented to the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the UN, Leila Zerrougui, stipulates the principles that from our point of view should govern the selection of hosting families and communities, as well as health, housing, education, psychosocial care, recreation conditions and, of course, security, among many other things. Among the institutions that in the opinion of the FARC-EP should be linked to the program are the ICRC, the United Nations and social and community organizations.
The participation of the Institute of Family Welfare was discarded because repeatedly, children who had been taken in by this institute ended in military bases and then infiltrated the ranks of the insurgency. Both the Host Program and the commitment of not allowing under 17 to join, would be subject to verification and monitoring by the same organizations linked to the program, the FARC-EP and the United Nations.
Then the issue, apparently, was forgotten. What happened? Why didn't the withdrawal of the children continue? At one point, comandante Ivan Marquez said a group of 13 children under 15 years was involved.
The Army, the prosecution and therefore the media, said no less than 3000 children are in the ranks of the FARC-EP. Incidentally, it is absurd to think that a popular army with so many children would have been able to face the Plan Patriota and the Plan Espada de Honor, executed by well trained and equipped 500,000 men. Although we know that these numbers come from the brains of counter-insurgency war think-tanks, the reality is that by asking the High Commands of the blocks, only 13 were the children under 15 found in camps of the FARC-EP.
Moreover, the delay in carrying out the protocol is due not to a lack of will on the side of the insurgency, but to a lack of interest on the Government's side, as it is more interested in identifying further measures of de-escalation, such as decontamination and cleaning the territories of explosive remnants of war; something to which, of course, we attach great importance.
Finally, it is worth also mentioniong the reaction of several of the children who will have to leave what has constituted their new family:
- Why, if we are rebels, we must obey rules imposed by people who do not even know our situation?
- They should know we will join again!
It is the other side of the coin, unknown to the public, but it is also a reality.
Another reality. Our reality.