Winner of the 2016 ICRC Humanitarian Visa d’or Award – International Committee of the Red Cross
For the past two years I have been photographing and interviewing child soldiers in Colombia, some of them demobilized and others still with troops. I have seen a situation that is explosive yet unreported, and that has devastated the lives of some 6,000 young people who have been enlisted in illegal armed groups.
It is estimated that 25 to 50% of fighters recruited are women, including girls as young as nine. They receive the same training as their male counterparts, being taught to handle weapons, collect intelligence and take part in military operations. They are also victims of sexual abuse by their commanders, and if they fall pregnant, are invariably forced to abort.
Young survivors are faced with hardship when they return to their families, having to live in extreme poverty and often being shunned by their communities who stigmatize them as criminals. Because of this discrimination and their lack of education and family support, they have no financial security, so most of them resort to violence and crime, ending up in a self-perpetuating cycle of conflict with society.