The man approached you when you were washing your sibblings’ clothes in the river. Your mom was still bed-ridden from the most recent birth. Vigorously, you pounded the water out of the clothes to chase away your mother’s screams, the blood, her fainting. The mid-wife had shown up but much too late.
The man said he had a job for you, in one of the farms nearby. He said you’d get paid. He said your mom would have a better life. We could use girls like you, he added, and casually, he caressed your cheek. Such big hands he had. He was a man and he was talking to you, and something inside you tickled. He eyed the contours of your budding hips then he looked down at your bare feet. He was the neighbor’s brother, you’d known him since you were a baby sleeping in the basinet by mama’s side.
At home, you were the one who cooked the meals, who cleaned the house, who haggled at the market. And the next week when you were washing clothes again, he showed up, again. He gave you candy and a notebook. He said, You can have more of this when you come with me.
When you did not show up where the man suggested, he slipped a letter under your door. He knew that with mama recovering and papa saddling up the horse at dawn, you’d be the one to receive it. The note was simple—“Tonight. Sunset. The river.”—because you could hardly read. You’d gone to school only until Jhonny was born, and then mama needed you at home again.
A week later, papa saddled up the horse. This time, he galloped to fill out a missing report on you.
Devastating statistics: Only three municipalities in Colombia’s Meta department are considered outside the potential risk of children being forcibly recruited for illegal armed groups, according to the Ministry of Family Welfare. They are San Juanito, El Calvario and Castilla La Nueva; in Meta’s other 26 municipalities the risk is high.
In Meta department, it is routine for entire families to abandon their homes so to avoid their children being abducted to become foot soldiers. In the most recent case, four minors were reported as “disappeared.” It turned out they were taken by a demobilized group of paramilitaries who had re-armed again.
Many families do not report their missing loved ones anymore. They prefer to stay quiet than to live with the threats or the consequences of threats carried out.