Attrition: The Kids Are Not Alright


December 11,2008: Decades of leftist and drug gang violence in Colombia are winding down, but the bad guys are taking the kids with them. Three years ago, an increasing number of parents were reporting that their teenage sons (and some daughters) were being kidnapped by leftist FARC rebels, and brainwashed into becoming gunmen for the cause. This is a scam long practiced in Asia and Africa, but not much encountered before in South America. Until recently, drug gangs and rebel groups could depend on adult volunteers for their manpower needs. But an improving economy, and much more effective security forces, caused a sharp fall off in recruits for the gangster life. So now, groups like FARC increasingly kidnap teenagers and make them an offer they can't refuse. Those that do say no, are simply killed.

There are over three million internal refugees in Colombia, and many of them give rebel recruitment methods as a primary reason why they fled. But the leftist rebels have lost half their 17,000 fighters in the last six years, and are willing to do anything to fill their depleted ranks. Few of these teenagers are interested in a stint as a rebel gunman. The decades of violence has made it clear, even to the kids, that this sort of thing does not end well. So far this year, over 300,000 people have fled their homes, to escape rebel violence, and recruiting.




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