(Photo: El Pais)

The state-run Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) demanded that the FARC guerrilla group, the country’s oldest, return all active child soldiers to their homes, in a statement published Friday.

The document was released following the annual ICBF Director’s Meeting, held this year in the southern state of Nariño, where ICBF Director Marco Aurelio Zuluaga joined 33 regional directors in calling for the end of child recruitment.

“We call on the FARC and other groups operating outside the law to return immediately the children and adolescents recruited, to restore their family relationships and enable them to return to their homes,” the statement read.

A spokesperson for the ICBF told Colombia Reports that, as of January this year, nearly 5,500 children have disengaged from the country’s armed conflict.

“As of the 31st of January this year there are a total of 5,436 children that have disengaged from the armed conflict. They (the children) are either captured — ‘reintegrated’ — during an armed exchange or hand themselves into the local authorities, who then contact the ICBF,” he told Colombia Reports.

MORE: FARC systematically recruits child soldiers: Study

The “complete disengagement process” begins by placing the minors into reintegration programs while their families can be located. In most cases, the child soldiers have been taken far from their actual homes.

Presently the ICBF is looking to develop a long-term post-conflict program to allow the disengaged children and adolescents within the armed groups to return to their homes at no risk to them or their families.

MORE: Plan in work to reintegrate child soldiers into their homes 

“This call to the armed groups to not involve children in the armed conflict has been reiterated many times. Children who participate in the armed conflict are the most affected, they are the first ones that die first because they are the first to be put forward during the conflict,” the spokesperson added.

Of the disengaged children stemming from the conflict, more than 3,000 originate from the FARC, 1,050 from paramilitary groups and 815 from the ELN guerrilla group, according to RCN Radio.

The ICBF’s Program for Disengaged Children of the Armed Conflict began tracking statistics on the reintegration of child soldiers starting in November 1999.


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