Children are trapped by Colombia’s war, nearly five years after the country signed a historic peace deal with its largest rebel group.
In 2016, Colombia signed a historic peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, but the country’s internal war is far from over. And young people — caught between an often absent state, the seduction of armed groups and the firepower of the military — are once again the conflict’s most vulnerable targets.
That was evident this month, when the government bombed a rebel camp in an effort to take out a high-profile dissident FARC leader. The camp turned out to be full of young people who had been recruited by the group — and the operation killed at least at least two minors.
Some of the youngest children in the town, Puerto Cachicamo, led the funeral procession of Yeimi Sofía Vega, one of the victims killed during the military operation ordered by their government. Waving small white flags, they wound past the school, past the shuttered health clinic and their small wooden houses.
“We don’t want bombs,” the children chanted. “We want opportunities.”
The defense minister, Diego Molano, blamed the rebels for the deaths, saying that they were the ones turning adolescents into government targets by converting them into “machines of war.”
The phrase electrified Colombian society. Child recruitment was a common feature of the country’s decades-long war. Now, rebels are at it again, circling town plazas, hanging recruitment posters, passing money to adolescents, charming the girls, then convincing them to join the fight.
And remote towns like Puerto Cachicamo have yet to see the schools, clinics and jobs the government promised in the agreement. Thousands of dissident FARC combatants have returned to battle and are fighting rivals for control of illicit markets. Mass killings and forced displacement are again regular occurrences.
The bombing raised critical questions of accountability in a country still grappling with atrocities committed by all sides during a conflict that left at least 220,000 dead. Tap the link in our bio to read more.
Photos by @historiassencillas