HAS GLOBALISATION AIDED DEMOBILISATION OF CHILD SOLDIERS IN COLUMBIA?
Updated: Feb 2
Abstract: Globalization has been under scrutiny from scholars for being a vehicle of neo-colonization; however, the paper attempts to re-look at the positives of globalization in the sensitive issue of child soldiering. Battlegrounds require manforce and children are the easiest victims, however, globalization which entails global cooperation and dissemination of information aids the demobilization of child soldiers. This paper looks at the concept from the perspective of the ongoing demobilization in Colombia. A swiftly developing nation, Colombia was ensnared by a brutal internal armed conflict for over six decades. It was only after the trade assistance of the USA in the 1990's that the first attempt at peace was made. The paper aims to connect globalization, trade and the impact on the demobilization of child soldiers in Colombia. With an economic growth rate of 3.3 percent, Colombia has been successful in the demobilization, disarmament and rehabilitation of child soldiers; however, this is seeing a reversal as the global pandemic has unleashed the phenomenon of protectionism around the world. Part I provides an overview of the interrelation of globalization and demobilization via global legislative cooperation which defines child soldier, and mass communication which creates a global vigilante. Part II narrates the Colombian conflict, with its ideologies of globalization and protectionism, and the resultant child soldiering. Part III looks at globalization and economic progress in Colombia and cites an example of the Medellin miracle- once the drug capital, but now has a blooming flower trade. Part IV then showcases the global support via prospective bilateral treaties and legislations, for the demobilization of child soldiers, and concludes with stressing on the preservation of globalization for universal good in Part V.
Keywords: Globalization, Child Soldiers, Demobilization, Human Rights, Colombia
Globalization has two sides, unfortunately, the human negative bias overshadows the positives of globalization, it has come under scrutiny for being a vehicle of neo-colonialism from the TWAIL scholars. However, one must not fail to look at the positives of globalization, for long the inter-connection of globalization and human rights has aided world peace and global wellbeing. Two of the remarkable features of globalization are – dissemination of information and its resultant economic integrity; we shall see how both these features aided the demobilization of child soldiers. The article aims to analyse the effect of globalization on the demobilization of child soldiers with special reference to Colombia. The article looks at Colombia as it is one of the leading developing countries in the world and is in close proximity with the global giant USA as it has been influencing its economy for over four decades now.
The paper begins by explaining how globalization via legislative global cooperation lays down the ambit of child soldiers and creates awareness via dissemination of information. Part II explains the internal armed conflict in Colombia which inadvertently is an ideological battle between globalization and protectionism. This conflict demands the use of child soldiers not only for the purpose of warfare but also to protect the illicit drug trade. Part III explains how globalization since the 1990s in Colombia has coincidentally or by design also marked the beginning of demobilization of child soldiers, the paper believes that it is because of globalization and the subsequent economic aid, that demobilization was taken up. The paper ends with positive remarks on globalization and urges on the need to continue the phenomenon.
Global legislative cooperation
Popular culture, along with international legal imagination, generates a rather simplified image of a child soldier: stereotypically, a poor, abducted, prepubescent African boy, in dilapidated sandals, barely able to hold his AK-47.
Globalization plays its first role that is, by giving a universal definition to identify a child soldier. Various international legal instruments speak about the prohibition of the use of children in warfare. A child is a person below the age of 18 years according to the Child Rights Convention, 1989 and any such person engaged in armed conflict may be termed as a child soldier. An attempt was made by the Paris Principles to comprehensively define;
“a child associated with an armed force or armed group”- refers to any person below 18 years of age who is or who has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in hostilities”
The United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) defines child soldiers as,
“any child—boy or girl—under eighteen years of age, who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity – including, but not limited to, combatants, cooks, porters, messengers and anyone accompanying such groups, other than family members. The definition includes girls recruited for sexual purposes and for forced marriage”
The age cap of 18 years is a recent reform brought in by The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC), also known as the child soldier treaty which was adopted in 2002. OPAC was formulated to protect children involved in military conflicts. The data below shows the commitment of nations to the elimination of child soldiers via OPAC.
Globalization is the result of improvement in technology and mass communication; one of its main features is the dissemination of information, which ensures vigilance by the global community. Child soldiers existed from before the First World War, however, due to the rapid spread of information agitations against child soldiering is at the forefront. The figure below depicts the number of child recruits and victims in 2016 around the world, we see in Colombia there are hundreds of recruits, while Afghanistan remains the most dangerous place for children.
Source: “Involvement of Children in Violent Conflicts, 2016.” World Atlas of Global Issues (Back to Homepage), https://espace-mondial-atlas.sciencespo.fr/en/topic-insecuritypeace/map-4C23-EN-involvement-of-children-in-violent-conflicts-2016.html. Accessed 11 June 2020.
In some thirty wars worldwide, nearly 300,000 children are thought to be combatants. Almost half a million more children serve in forces that are not actually at war, with 40 % of the world’s military organizations having children in their ranks. According to the Report of the Secretary-General, Children and armed conflict of June 2020, About 7,747 youngsters, some as young as 6, were verified as being recruited and used by the United Nations. Among others, non-State actors used 90 percent. 10,173 kids were confirmed to have been killed and maimed (4,019) (6,154).
Children are recruited into the armed conflict either involuntarily, that is they are abducted and forced into it, or voluntarily where children independently get enlisted in recruitments programs this is aided by poverty and social stigma. Some children are born into the forces or groups. Once into the armed forces, the only way out is death, they are made to do all sorts of things, they are sent as spies, made to kill their own family members, used as human shields, they have to live in inhumane conditions and at a tender age are exposed to the harsh realities of life and deprived of their human rights. Nearly 30 percent of the children recruited are girls, who are sexually abused, taken as mistresses by commanders and are made to fight with their infants strapped onto their back.
The Global community has resolved to fight against the recruitment of children into armies, to that effect UNICEF has marked 12th February as International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, also known as Red Hand Day, the day OPAC came into effect in 2002. One of the significant steps taken by the global community is the demobilization of child soldiers. Demobilization means to release someone from one of the armed forces, it is necessary that there must be effective implementation of rehabilitation. Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone, are some of the countries which have undertaken the demobilization of child soldiers. The beneficial impact of globalisation is the confirmation of a global contribution to the protection of children's rights.
I. COLOMBIAN ARMED CONFLICT
Colombia is a Latin American nation situated in the North-West of South America. For over 54 years Colombia had been ensnared in a battle of political ideologies between the leftist guerrilla groups and right-winged paramilitary forces. These ideologies to a certain extent reflect opposition to globalization and protection measures. The leftist guerrilla group was dominated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) based on Marxist-Leninist principles, and The National Liberation Army (ELN) based on Che Guevara’s tactics. They oppose the privatisation of natural resources and represent the rural poor against the rich of Colombia. The Right-wing paramilitary groups were established to combat the rising leftist, An umbrella organisation comprised of several regional paramilitary groups was founded in 1977 by the Unified Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). It was targeted at fighting back and finally extinguishing the FARC and the ELN. Global statistics indicate that out of 7.6 million people identified as victims of the violence in Colombia, 2.5 million are teenagers or 1 in 3. Since data collection began in 1985, up to 45,000 children have been killed, 2.3 million have been displaced and 8,000 have vanished.
(Source: Human Rights Watch)
There is no precise data to know how many children were forced to participate in armed conflict in Colombia. According to the 2004 Child Soldier Global Report opposition groups and army-backed paramilitaries continued to recruit and use up to 14,000 children. Between 1972 and 2014, the FARC alone is believed to have recruited at least 11,000 children and young people into its ranks, making Colombia fourth in the world with the largest use of child soldiers, after Myanmar, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is due to globalization that the data is now available to the masses at their fingertips, which aids in raising our voice against the same.
II. COLOMBIA AND GLOBALIZATION
For long Colombia was famed for its drug cartels and larger than life leader Pablo Escobar, in 1988 Colombia was in a debt of US$16 billion, in 1997, it rose to US$31.2 billion, and it was only increasing, thus globalization was the only way forward, but to start liberalization and attract foreign investment it was essential that the internal volatile situations were addressed i.e., the drug mafia and the guerrilla warfare. Colombia began embracing globalization with the exports surge as the United States granted Colombia temporary trading privileges in the 1990s, helping more of its goods to enter the world’s largest duty-free economy.While the other Latin American countries are opposing free trade, Colombia’s voice rings loud and clear for it. A 2008 article traces the evolution of a city in Columbia - Medellin’s miracle transformation to a flower economy due to globalization. In 2019 the economic growth rate was at 3.3 percent and the main attributes to it were the private consumers and investors. To keep up the growth, it is necessary that the conditions be made conducive for the same. A volatile political regime is a repulsion to foreign trade and a nation that does not uphold the natural law and universal principles of human rights is not a favourable trading prospect, hence the Colombian government has been helpless but to end the 60 years on-going conflict to move forward.
III. GLOBALIZATION AND DEMOBILIZATION
The Colombian crisis concluded with the signing in September 2016 of a peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC. In this process one must acknowledge the role of the guarantor countries, Cuba and Norway, as well as the accompanying countries, Chile and Venezuela; here once again we see another positive of globalization. Further, we see countries like France providing a positive impetus to the reformative actions by ensuring bilateral support.
Further, we need to take into account the legislative efforts taken by the global community to eradicate child soldiering. Article 8(2) (xxvi) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 1998 enlists “conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into the national armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities as a war crime.” By criminalizing the act of use of child soldiers, the global community seeks to stop the child soldiering phenomena.The Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols have always promoted the rights of children and aimed to prevent child soldiering.
Demobilization of child soldiers in Colombia has been carried out since 1999,  around the same time that the US opened its market to Colombia. The 2016 Peace Agreement signalled an improved future for the end of recruitment of child soldiers and emancipation of the already enlisted ones. Coincidentally it was around the same time in 2018 that global giants like Amazon, have reportedly arrived in Colombia. In the past five years, more than 200 companies have the ease of doing business has raised to 67, and the government is focusing on the agriculture and food industry. Simultaneously the May 2019 monthly review by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and International Organization for Migration (IOM) shows that in the month of May according to the information provided by the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) and the Agency for Reincorporation and Normalization (ARN), 21 children and adolescents have been disengaged. Thus, we see an undeniable interconnection of globalization and the demobilization of child soldiers in Colombia. The paper does recognize other influential factors, however, the unerring interlink cannot be overlooked.
Unfortunately, relying on the media, on June 28, 2020, the Attorney General of Colombia affirmed that More than 12 attacks have occurred since the pandemic was started, in which these militant groups have used children and teenagers to commit murders and other violent activities.This coincides with the recession in Colombia attributed to the pandemic. This depicts the inversely proportional relation of the economy and the use of child soldiers.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the demobilization of child soldiers in Colombia will not happen overnight, it is going to be a long ride for the children of Colombia to see light at the end of the tunnel.
It largely depends on the Peace Agreements between the government and the leftist guerrilla groups, whose agenda needs to be fulfilled. The watchful gaze of the global community and the economic pressure ensures that the demobilization will be continued.
No matter how hard we try to demonize the omnipotent phenomenon of globalization we cannot deny the fact that it has contributed immensely via dissemination of information and interconnectedness of nations in achieving global good, in this instance the demobilization of child soldiers in Colombia. John Lyly said everything is fair in love and war, albeit nothing is fair in war. Combatants have taken it a step further, be it by use of prohibited weapons that cause superfluous damage and injury, killing noncombatants and civilians, or engaging children in adult’s war. The preamble of the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959), says “mankind owes to the child the best it has to give,” however an AK-47 is not the best we have to give. In a positive ray of hope, globalization has indeed stimulated the process of demobilization of child soldiers in Colombia; however there are many speed breakers ahead, and slowing the phenomena of globalization in Colombia would be a major blow not only to the economy but also to the children. Today in Colombia and around the world, children are undergoing terror beyond their age yet we sit in the comfort of our homes believing all is well in the world and that, is the greatest misfortune of mankind. Voicing a similar opinion Graça Machel in her report to UNGA on Impact of Armed Conflict on Children in 1996 wrote,
“It is unforgivable that children are assaulted, violated, murdered and yet our conscience is not revolted nor our sense of dignity challenged. This represents a fundamental crisis of our civilization.”
 Drumbl, Mark A., and Jastine C. Barrett. Research Handbook on Child Soldiers. Edward Elgar, p. 2, https://books.google.co.in/books?id=dAOsDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=child+soldiers+book&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiU1NHbzKPqAhXRyzgGHYYcDtwQ6AEwAXoECAAQAg#v=onepage&q=child%20soldiers%20book&f=false. [Research Handbook on Child Soldiers hereinafter]  Paris Principles on PRINCIPLES AND GUIDELINES ON CHILDREN ASSOCIATED WITH ARMED FORCES OR ARMED GROUPS, February 2007, p.7 https://www.unicef.org/mali/media/1561/file/ParisPrinciples.pdf,  Child Protection Information Sheet, https://www.unicef.org/chinese/protection/files/Armed_Groups.pdf
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Cover Image: Global Journalist
About the author: Vaibhavi Rane is a master’s student at JGLS, with multidisciplinary research interests in TWAIL, human rights and trade.