Colombian FARC rebels agree to let ‘child soldiers’ leave ranks

Colombia’s government and leftist FARC rebels have agreed to a roadmap for children under 15 to leave guerilla encampments and re-integrate into civil society. The accord, part of negotiations aimed at ending Latin America’s longest war, is a first step toward all minors leaving rebel ranks, the two sides said in a joint statement. The FARC has long been accused by the government and human rights groups of using child solders as cannon fodder. The FARC’s forces are estimated at 8,000 guerrillas but it is not known how many might be minors. The group said on Sunday there were 21 children under 15 among its ranks.

We have agreed with the national government that these minors cannot be prosecuted and that, as victims of an immense social and political drama, they will be treated as such and never as criminals.

FARC lead negotiator Ivan Marquez

The rebel group announced last year it would stop recruiting minors, but no deal was reached on handling teenagers and children already in its ranks. Under the terms of the deal, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF and the International Organization for Migration will oversee the procedure to ensure both sides stick to their promises. FARC lead negotiator Ivan Marquez said the FARC had never recruited minors under 15, but many had arrived orphaned by paramilitary violence or fleeing from “mistreatment and the absence of a future”. Poverty and famine among Colombia’s youth was a greater problem than the existence of minors in FARC camps, he added.