by Ben Chow, Damla Ozdemir & Alicia Yin
On August 24th, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government met in Havana to sign a peace accord that marked the end of Colombia’s long-standing civil war. This agreement involves the freeing of FARC child soldiers, whose lives have been dedicated to enforcing the beliefs of this violent leftist guerilla military group.
Originally formed in the 1960s to fight for land reform and social justice, FARC has since evolved into one of the most infamous militant organizations, operating in cocaine trafficking, kidnapping, and extortion. In recent years, blows exchanged between the Colombian government and the Marxist guerilla group have led to 220,000 deaths.
Both sides agreed to a military stalemate in 2012 to initiate the peace talks. The accords that culminated this August entail the seizure of FARC weapons, a halt of drug trafficking and the promise to develop impoverished areas in Colombia.
More importantly, the accords also free the 170 members of the FARC military who are under eighteen. Part of FARC’s grievances is the recruitment of child soldiers, many of whom were kidnapped from their families and trained in the jungle. From 2008 to 2012, other guerilla groups and FARC trafficked an estimated 18,000 children, 43% of whom were forced into sexual slavery. Natalia Springer, the dean of the law school at Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano in Bogota, Colombia, found that 98% of the children have been forced into sexual servitude, taken on dangerous tasks such as installing landmines and performed other “dirty work” normally done by the adults. Although many of the children are physically healthy, due to the level of psychological scarring, the release of the child soldiers involves a special program for their transition into civilian life.
The next step to peace for the people of Colombia will be decided by public vote on October 2nd. The main point of controversy in the agreement lies with the fact that the guerilla fighters of FARC will be absolved of all war crimes, which effectively allows the fighters to go free. While the Colombian people vehemently condemn the actions of this guerrilla military, preliminary polls indicate that the deal is set to go through. If this deal goes through, the consequences will be unprecedented, Colombia will have taken its next step towards peace.