ONGOING STORIES: Born into Conflict
(Excerpt from 2014 Getty Editorial Grant proposal)
Left-wing guerrillas have been waging a bloody war against the Colombian government and the population for the past fifty years. To carry on this conflict, The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and emerging right-wing armed groups have been recruiting increasing numbers of children and youths. My project aims to document the experience of current and former child soldiers in Colombia.
For more than three years now, I have been documenting the hope, uncertainty and struggles of families in search of truth of the whereabouts of their 25,007 love ones who have disappeared in this conflict, who still await news of the 27,023 kidnapped and of the 5,172,500 internally displaced people who arrive to the big cities in search of a better life. Yet, while on assignment, I came across a crisis that has remained unspoken for much of this conflict, I met a troop of children well armed and eager for combat.
There is no precise data on the number of child combatants in Colombia, only estimates. Human Rights Watch places the figures as high as 11,000 child soldiers. About 3,500 former child soldiers have been ‘rehabilitated’ and reunited with their families. But most recruited children are afraid to speak about their experiences. Groups like the FARC have no leniency to children. Children who desert are often shot. This was the fate of Julian Ordoñes, a seventeen year old who deserted in 2011. I met his mother who showed me the last picture she had of him before the FARC took him months after he was reunited with his family to face a “war council.”
As peace talks are underway in Habana, there has been no acknowledgment from FARC on recruiting child soldiers, nor pressure from the government to put an end to this practice. Trying to comprehend the situation, I am left with more questions than answers. How something so globally condemned has taken place in this country for so long? What is being done to protect these children?