Nohora Munoz was kidnapped two weeks ago in Fortul, a small town close to the Venezuelan border, where her father is the local mayor. Around 2000 soldiers, as well as policemen, have been out looking for the little girl while Colombians across the country have been praying for Nohora nightly. An 80,000 dollar reward has been offered for information which may lead to where she is being kept and tens of thousands of people have taken part in street protests to demand the child’s release.
Though Nohora’s abduction has captured the attention of the nation, she is just one of many young children kidnapped in Colombia each year. As the BBC reports, though the practice is not as common as a decade ago, over 20 cases have already been registered in 2011. And in the last three and a half years, 168 abductions of minors have been recorded by the Colombian government, over half involving children under ten.
Kidnappings are particularly prevalent in outlying regions such as Arauca, where Nohora was taken. In these border areas, groups of ex-paramilitary rebels and drug-trafficking gangs remain a huge problem. Currently, it is not clear which group has taken the little girl, but many in Colombia suspect the Farc.
Children growing up in areas where the Farc continues to fight against government troops often have experience of violence and displacement from their homes. Many have also lost parents. The armed groups in Colombia also continue to recruit minors into their ranks. Some children are as young as seven years old, though on average they are taken from around the age of twelve. The exact number of children in the rebel groups is hard to know. The Coalition Against the Involvement of Children in the Colombian Armed Conflict (Coalico) calls it “the invisible crime” of the country.
Though some children are snatched, most are persuaded to join the groups because their families are being threatened with violence. Sometimes they are lured by promises of clothes and food in regions where poverty rates are high. The problem is particularly acute at the moment among the indigenous community of northern Cauca, where the Farc have a strong presence. Frequent clashes between the rebels and government troops mean the rebel movement is keen to increase its numbers, by whatever means. A representative from Coalico told the BBC that for children recruited by these groups, there is often little choice, because it’s simply “a matter of survival”.