By Yolanda Reyes, EL TIEMPO, March 22, 2021

(Translated By Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

We know that Danna Lizeth Montilla, the adolescent girl, 16 years old, a victim of the bombing of the encampment of alias Gentil Duarte in Guaviare Province, whose death was justified by the Minister of Defense because she was “a war machine”—with no sanction or political consequence—wanted to finish the 10th grade. We know, through her exchanges in WhatsApp with her teacher, that she wanted to study virtually, but that in November of 2020 she was reported to have dropped out of school. We know that the teacher activated, as could be expected, the recruitment system, that involved the Mayor, the City Clerk, the Public Defender, and ICBF (Colombian Family Welfare Institute) and we know that, as could also be expected, nothing was done.

We know through the Early Alerts issued by the Public Defender about the recruitment by the armed groups in the area. We know, going back further, that in June of 2016, when the First Front of the FARC, led by alias Gentil Duarte, announced that they would not continue in the peace process and would join the dissidents, it was predictable that his decision would affect the people that live in those towns, and that anybody who failed to bend to the orders of the new groups would be victims of forced displacement.

We know—o no, that’s a lie: we never knew, or we pretended not to know it—that that war of dissidences was going to have repercussions like the recruitment of children, and that, exactly the same as always, the chain would break at its weakest link. We know, or we ought to know, before we forget its history and pass on to the next outrage, that the death of Danna Lizeth is not “collateral damage” nor is it “punishment” of “a war machine”, but rather it’s an infamous and habitual practice that has shown no mercy to the most vulnerable boys and girls, in the face of national indifference and the government’s irresponsibility. While I’m writing this column that sounds like a broken record, many teenagers like Danna are walking along in the mined countryside that is a large part of Colombia, and their fate is a screenplay inherited from generation to generation, and we know how it’s going to end.

We know, and the government knows, that with the closing of educational institutions because of the pandemic, the child recruitment figures will rise (Information available from 2020 shows an increase of more than 50%, compared to the data from 2019.) And without idealizing the role of schools—since before the pandemic the schools in the area lacked infrastructure, health services, and safe drinking water–, it was also known that in the municipalities identified in the Early Alerts, there were around 16,000 children, and that the absence of the institutional structure that schools can exercise, with their functions of restraint and control, mixed with the confinement of a population even more impoverished and without employment, and because of that, more dependent on the armed groups, justified all of the alarms and all of the prevention activities. Why did all of that knowledge not inspire decided government action?

If it’s well known that the children—and not just in those towns (veredas) in Guaviare—would go, because of fear, because of hunger, for a cell phone, or for lack of options, and that their families, terrorized by the recruiters, are victims or codependents of the illegal economies, what are the strategies used by the government for prevention of recruiting? Why don’t the President and the Minister of Education, also responsible for the absence of the government in these zones of risk, why don’t they say something? And the local authorities, the agencies of control, Congress, and the press, what are they saying?

If one third of the population of Colombia is made up of boys, girls, and teenagers, and if 30% of all victims registered with the Single Registry of Victims are children, beyond the necessary debate about the Minister of Defense, here is another ethical debate that can’t be put off: And not having that debate also speaks volumes.

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