(Photo: El Universal)

Children in over half of Colombia’s states are at risk of being recruited by the country’s armed or criminal groups, the country’s Ombudsman’s Office said.

Based on an investigation conducted by the Childhood Rights Delegation — an advisory unit to the Ombudsman’s Office — 72 reports were produced showing the recruitment “phenomenon” was occurring in 153 municipalities throughout 28 departments, including the reported distribution of marijuana-laced ice cream utilised to manipulate recruited children.

According to the Ombudsman the FARC and the ELN armed rebel groups are still the main “groups responsible in linking minors to the conflict”, and added that  ”the post-demobilization AUC groups or ‘gangs’ (Bacrim) are also principal players, recruiting people in both rural and urban areas.”

MORE: Colombia govt agency calls on FARC to release child soldiers

Commemorating Red Hand Day — or International Day against child recruitment in armed conflicts — the Childhood Rights Delegation highlighted their research today, which was conducted from October to December 2013 and investigated reports of childhood recruitment throughout the departments of Antioquia, Guajira, Chocó, Nariño, Cauca and el Valle del Cauca.

The Delegation highlighted reports of criminal groups using children to steal and sell fuel in the northern department of La Guajira, cases of sexual exploitation of minors in Antioquia, and the use of children in active armed conflict by the FARC and criminal group “Los Rastrojos” in the western department of El Choco.

Cases of children being used to plant landmines and manufacture explosive devices were verified in three different municipalities by the Delegation.

According to the state-run Colombian Family Welfare Institute nearly 5,500 children have disengaged from the country’s armed conflict.


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