Child Combatants in Colombia
More than 11,000 children fight in Colombia's armed conflict, one of the highest totals in the world. Both guerrilla and paramilitary forces rely on child combatants, who have committed atrocities and are even made to execute other children who try to desert. The first comprehensive report published on this issue, "You'll Learn Not to Cry" documents how Colombia's illegal armies have recruited increasing numbers of children in recent years. Only Burma (Myanmar) and the Democratic Republic of Congo are believed to have significantly larger numbers of child combatants than Colombia. The 150-page book, based on interviews with 112 former child combatants, documents how both guerrillas and paramilitaries exploit the desperation of poor children in rural combat zones. Many join up for food or physical protection, to escape domestic violence, or because of promises of money. Some are coerced to join at gunpoint, or join out of fear. Others are street children with nowhere to go. Children as young as thirteen are trained to use assault rifles, grenades and mortars. Human Rights Watch urged guerrilla and paramilitary forces to end all recruitment of children under the age of eighteen and to demobilize the children in their ranks. Pending complete demobilization, the group urged the following immediate and unconditional steps: firmly prohibit forcible recruitment; allow those who wish to leave without reprisals; cease executions of children; and provide proper medical care for the sick or wounded.