UNITED NATIONS, April 3 (Xinhua) -- The UN Children's Fund ( UNICEF) on Tuesday voiced its support to a dual-report released by the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the child soldiers in Colombia, and called on the armed factions in the Latin American country to set free these recruited children.
"We share a big concern about the large number of children recruited by illegal armed groups in Colombia," the deputy director of the Program Division of UNICEF, Christian Salazar, said at a press conference here.
"It is particularly shocking to learn that the average age of children recruited has gone down, that is, they have gotten younger," Salazar said.
On Tuesday, the report was issued by the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, and the Coalition Against the Involvement of Boys, Girls, and Youth in the Armed Conflict in Colombia (COALICO).
The report showed that children in the Latin American country continue to be recruited and suffer violations to their rights.
The independent NGOs report, supported by UNICEF, said that guerrilla forces and paramilitary groups have "committed serious abuses against civilians."
According to the report, the previous age for recruitment was 14; currently it is 12. The report also found that the number of victims of massacres have increased from 81 to 101, while pointing out the continuous acts against several human rights violations, including rape, killings and the continuation of recruitment of child soldiers.
"We would like make a call to all illegal armed groups in Colombia to stop immediately the recruitment of children and to release all those under their control," said Salazar.
Recently, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) released 10 hostages, some of which were held for almost 14 years. Still, there are no signs of slowing down in child recruitment from what is known to be "one of the worst terrorist groups worldwide," said Nathalia Salamanca Sarmiento, researcher of the Children and Armed Conflict Observatory, a think-tank in Colombia.
The FARC-EP will no longer kidnap civilians for ransom, have sparked rumors of a long awaited peace talks between the terrorist group and the Colombian government, reports said.
For his part, Salazar said "we have seen any indication of the release of children."
"This is a high priority issue," he said, while stressing that the Colombian government should revise the law which only recognizes those under the age of 18 as victims.
As it stands, in Colombia, any child under the age of 18 who is released of any illegal armed force is able to benefit from legal protection and participate in UNICEF's integration program. However, those who are released upon or after turning 18 are not, facing the ramifications of crimes committed, Salazar said.
"They are solely seen as perpetrators, they are victims, and they are children," Yvonne Kemper, an officer from the Watchlist, told Xinhua after the press conference. "They exploit the fact they don't know what they are getting into, they think they're escaping domestic violence, or they are moving toward a better life, and they can't get out because they are afraid of stigma, or being treated as criminals."