Meet Laura. Laura grew up in a small farming community in rural Colombia. She lived with her parents, grandparents and 4 siblings. Laura’s parents used to farm vegetables and sell them at the local market, but the local armed group forced them to grow coca.
Her father was shot and killed in a land dispute with some soldiers from the local armed group. Laura and her family were eventually pushed from their land when the government sprayed their coca farm in attempt to stem the production of narcotics in the country. Devastated Laura’s family left their small town behind and moved to a larger town with the hope of being able to farm vegetables again.
Months later, Laura was approached by a member of the armed group and given a choice to join. She had one month to decide. Feeling as though she had no choice, she decided to join the group.
All of the children were forced to memorize the group’s codes of conduct and learn to operate a rifle. However, many of the children were trained in specialized tasks—some children were trained to handle explosives, but Laura was trained in intelligence gathering. Laura was sometimes sent to the fight on the front line but her new skills as a spy and intelligence gatherer were quickly put to the test. Government forces were close by, forcing the her armed group to constantly move positions.
She proved to her commanders she was a skilled scout and spy: her small stature and natural charisma helped her to gain valuable information to elude direct conflict with government forces. She was also able to operate within local villages with ease, as no one suspected a young girl as being a spy. However, working as a spy was fraught with risk and often exposed her to dangerous situations close to the frontline. Laura heard of children forced to the front lines and die. Laura did not want to die.
After a successful offensive Laura’s commanders held a large party in their bush camp. There was a lot of food and drink for all of the soldiers. As the party wore on late into the night Laura waited for her commanders to get drunk and then took the opportunity to escape.
Laura is currently living in a transit center for youth who have been involved with armed groups. Everyday she shares her stories of loss and resilience with other former child soldiers as they work toward creating a life after conflict.
Who is a Child Soldier?
The Paris Principles on Children and Armed Conflict
The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative defines a child soldier using the 2007 Paris Principal and Guidelines on Children Affected by Armed Conflict. Using the definition within the Paris Principles of a child used and associated with armed groups, the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative defines a child soldier as:
“Any person below 18 years of age who is or has been recruited or used by an armed group in any capacity including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies, or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking part or has taken a direct part in direct hostilities”
and Recommended Readings
Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict Colombia Country Page: Webpage Link
2014 Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict: Report Link
2013 Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict: Report Link
Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Colombia (2012): Report Link
Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Colombia (2009): Report Link
Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict: No One to Trust: Children and Armed Conflict in Colombia: Report Link
Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict: Colombia’s War on Children: Report Link
BBC: The child soldiers who escaped Colombia’s guerrilla groups: News Article
Not Every Child Soldier Carries a Gun
Armed groups will use children as spies for a number of reasons. Children will rarely raise suspicion when engaging with civilian populations and security sector personnel. Also, due to their small stature they are able to access areas and spaces that might be inaccessible to adults. Depending on the context, girls and boys will be used as spies.
The use of children as spies can present many challenges for armed groups. For example, entrusting children with sensitive information can leave the armed group exposed if a child was to be captured by an opposing group or force. As well, if a child was to demobilize they could possibly share sensitive information with the government or international forces. Using children as spies can also create a broader suspicion of all children in an area, effectively removing the strategic advantage of using children as spies.