Alias “Susana Tellez” is a 25-year-old FARC member. She joined when she was 12 or 13 years old. In the above interview, with Swedish reporter Dick Emanuelsson, she says, “the age does not matter for the sacrifice one is doing. Also because all who take up arms do it of voluntary manner. We don’t want to see more suffering.”
Child rights’ expert Graça Machel wrote, “In addition to being forcibly recruited, youth also present themselves for service. It is misleading, however, to consider this voluntary. While young people may appear to choose military service, the choice is not exercised freely. They may be driven by any of several forces, including cultural, social, economic or political pressures.”
Susana Tellez says she came from a large family. She says she finished high-school (though it is unclear how she was able to finish high school because she says she had joined FARC before she was of high school age). She says she could not find employment after high school, and she and her family spoke for some time about joining FARC and they agreed that she should, indeed, join the guerrillas.
According to the academic Natalia Springer, a guerrilla recruiter often approaches a child or a teen by sending her/him on an errand like transport food, deliver messages or make phone calls. This is a way to evaluate the child or adolescent.
Of 437 former combatants, children and adolescents, boys and girls, in one of Natalia Springer’s studies: 68 percent “worked” for the group before formally joining. Of these, 52.2 percent transported mines and explosives, 9 percent carried out intelligence work, 3.8 percent were part of the urban militias, and 12.5 percent transported food. Of the group, 89 percent reported having done “favors” for the group. Springer added, “voluntarily” also means a “quota,” or “contribution,” or “tax,” which is imposed on the family by the illegal armed group.
Susana Tellez says her parents were revolutionaries. The FARC have been around since 1964, and today’s combatants are also born into the FARC; they can be third or fourth generation FARC. Much of southern Colombia has traditionally been FARC strongholds, and a father, brother, aunt or uncle are likely in the guerrilla or sympathize with the guerrilla.
Susana Tellez says she was courted by the guerrilla who would say to her “soon will be your time to go, to have love for arm, love for uniform ..”
In testimony before the U.S. Congress, Carlos Alberto Plotter, FARC deserter and demobilized commander in the north-east department of Antioquia, said, “At the beginning it’s a psychological pressure. You start telling the young boys ‘you’re almost at the age of coming in, almost, pretty soon you’ll join us.’ That’s the beginning. There was what we would call a national directive that arised lately and said that those in the guerrilla areas had – it was an obligation. They had to join up or else they should leave. This is happening in the clandestine communist party, and in the Bolivian militias.”
Susana Tellez says that growing up, her family and neighbors suffered much poverty.
According to the academic Natalia Springer, of former child combatants in one of her studies: 82 percent had lacked access to water for more than a year before joining; 99 percent lacked proper diet; 52 percent had lower weight and height for their age; 98 percent suffered intense and constant physical exhaustion. Of the group in her study, 81 percent “volunteered” to join an armed group, and 18 percent said they were forced.
Colombia’s child soldiers is the subject of my forthcoming book. You can read excerpts here.