About 10 years ago, it used to be that the average age of recruitment into an illegal armed group was 14 years old; now, it is 12 years old. Some as young as 8 have recently been demobilized (read: rescued).
The average number of years a person remains in a drug trafficking group remains eight years.
Now, think about what you were doing between the ages of 12 and 20.
Okay, now, think about re-wiring yourself entirely and forgetting everything — emotionally, psychologically, culturally — and start anew.
Think about what it would be like to leave the countryside, the only environment you have known until now, and trying to survive in Bogotá, Medellin, or another metropolis.
But you have a first grade education at best.
And when almost anyone you come across in your new life finds out you used to be a guerrilla or a paramilitary, they run away from you. When you apply for any job, they turn you away because of your past.
That is the life of a person who leaves the FARC or any other guerrilla group.
Such reality was presented by the director of the Colombian Agency for Reintegration, Alejandro Eder, at Columbia University a few nights ago.
Eder emphasized the government’s reintegration is not a peace-building plan, but a security program. It is far less expensive to help former combatants find a lawful life than it is to keep fighting them in the jungles.
On average, 10 fighters demobilize every day in Colombia.
Since 2003, nearly 55,000 combatants from illegal armed groups have given up their weapons, including some 30,000 fighters from right-wing paramilitary groups, who disarmed during a peace process with the previous government.
Sixty percent of the 40,000 or so former fighters who have joined the government reintegration program are illiterate, while over half were sexually abused as children.
The government provides one psychologist for every 100 ex-combatants, and counseling is on offer about twice a month.