A prominent human rights group estimated Thursday that 11,000 children are fighting in Colombia’s civil war, serving as messengers, foot soldiers and even executioners for leftist rebel bands as well as right-wing paramilitary armies.
The figure, released in a study by New York-based Human Rights Watch, is one of the highest for child combatants in any current conflict and marks a dramatic increase since the late 1990s, says the Los Angeles Times.
Researchers said armed groups were recruiting children as young as 12 or 13, who often join up to escape domestic violence or hunger and then are expected to participate in atrocities. Deserters, if caught, often are killed, researchers said.
“This is a wake-up call, a catalyst to fight against the most vicious, heinous crimes targeting the most vulnerable people,” former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, who serves on the Human Rights Watch board, said at a Bogota news conference.