From Congo to Colombia: Extending the International Criminal Court's Landmark Child Soldiers Verdict
Posted on: Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Today, the International Criminal Court issued its first ever verdict. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, a Congolese warlord, has been convicted of participating in the recruitment of child soldiers. He now faces life imprisonment.
The verdict is a milestone. It sends a message to armed groups everywhere that they can’t exploit child soldiers with impunity. In fact, the problem isn’t only confined to Africa.
Child soldiers are being recruited by armed groups much closer to home—and funded by your tax dollars. In Colombia, a decades-long conflict rages on, and children are dragged into combat.
As Colombia has become the staunchest US ally in the hemisphere, the US has poured billions in military aid, weapons and training into the country, fueling a war in which all sides exploit children as soldiers.
Some are boys and girls as young as eight years old. They are children like Julia*, who by age 14 was no longer sure how many people she had killed. “When it was my turn to shoot someone, I always hid my face because I was afraid,” she explained.
Julia’s story is tragically typical. Years ago, her family fled their home in the countryside when her father was accused of betraying the local guerrilla commander. Like so many displaced people, Julia and her mother ended up in one of Bogotá’s sprawling and dangerous shanty-towns.
Unable to enroll in school because of the cost, Julia spent most of her time in the streets, hungry and often afraid.
The men who approached her were kind. They offered food, adventure and, they said, a real family if she would join their cause. They were from one of Colombia’s right-wing paramilitary groups, allied with the government in an effort to eliminate leftist guerrillas and protect powerful business interests.
Colombia’s shadowy network of paramilitaries is notorious for their brutality, but there are no good guys in this three-way war. The guerrillas also recruit children to fight, and the government uses children as spies.
According to Julia, the child soldiers are called "little bees" because they are quick to sting the enemy. These children are virtual slaves; many are sexually abused for years. To ensure that conscripted children can never return home, armed groups sometimes force them to kill their neighbors or even family members.
Few alternatives exist for these children. But luckily, some have found their way to Taller de Vida, an organization based in Bogotá that provides former child soldiers and children at risk of recruitment with trauma counseling, art therapy and recreational programs. The children at Taller de Vida also learn about the struggles of child soldiers in other parts on the world, including Africa.
They are counting on us to make sure that all children—in Congo, Colombia and beyond—are protected from the abuse of combat. We must make sure today’s International Criminal Court ruling resonates far beyond Africa, to every community where children, lacking options and opportunity, are lured into war.
*Not her real name
By Yifat Susskind, MADRE Executive Director
Archives"Press Room" Home November 2014 October 2014 September 2014 August 2014 July 2014 June 2014 May 2014 April 2014 March 2014 February 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008 November 2008 October 2008 September 2008 August 2008 July 2008 June 2008 May 2008 April 2008 March 2008 February 2008 January 2008 December 2007 November 2007 October 2007 September 2007 August 2007 June 2007 May 2007 April 2007 March 2007 February 2007 January 2007 December 2006 November 2006 October 2006 September 2006 July 2006 June 2006 April 2006 March 2006 January 2006 December 2005 November 2005 September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 April 2005 March 2005 November 2004 October 2004 April 2004 March 2004 January 2004 December 2003 October 2003 September 2003 June 2003 April 2003 January 2003 September 2002 June 2002 January 2002 November 2001 October 2001 September 2001 August 2001 January 2001
MADRE & Our Partners Make News
Iraqi government 'likely complicit' in persecution of LGBT community (The Guardian, November 19, 2014)
LGBT Iraqis face 'imminent risk of death' under Islamic State (Washington Blade, November 19, 2014)
Iraq: "When Coming Out is a Death Sentence" (San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, November 19, 2014)
The World's Obsession With Schoolgirls As Victims, And Why It's Putting Them In Danger (Think Progress, November 9, 2014)
Forbidden Talk - Prostitution in the Middle East (Levant TV, October 7, 2014)