© UNICEF/UN013281/LeMoyne

Why I became a child soldier

Angelina ran away from home and joined a guerrilla group in Colombia. Here's why.

UNICEF has obtained a rare interview with a young woman released from an armed group after spending six years in the jungle. In her words, this is her story.

Things were bad at home, so bad that I lost the will to live. I thought if I joined an armed group, I would get killed.

I first ran away from home when I was 12. I went on to live with a friend. My mother would sometimes come and get me, but I would leave again.

When I was 15 I got pregnant. Having a baby is a big responsibility. I didn’t know what to do.

There were always guerrilleros in my village. I had seen them a few times and I decided to join them. It took me days to reach their camp.

Angelina* speaks to UNICEF about her experiences in an armed group. © UNICEF/UN013282/LeMoyne

At first I didn’t like it there, but then I met someone. We were together for a year before he was killed in battle. He was in another location and I only learned about his death six months later.

When I joined, my daughter was still a baby. I wasn’t there during the first years of her life and I will never get that time back. I would often call home to ask about her. But it’s not the same. Now that I’m back, she wants to be with me all the time. She tells me she loves me and begs me not to leave her again. When she says that, I go to my room and start crying. I haven’t been a mother to her.
 
This woman, now an adult, spent many of her teenage years with the armed group in Colombia. © UNICEF/LeMoyne

It’s very important to have a partner there. It can be of great support. When we have to move, a partner can help you carry your load. Partners live together and if one of them has to go on mission, they can wait for each other if they’re in love. But men don’t wait for women.

The first time I was in a battle I was very scared because I didn’t know how to handle a gun.

Sometimes I would cry and pray to God to give me strength to carry on. It’s not a good place for children or even adults. People don’t know how hard it is. If you can’t defend yourself, you can die.
 
© UNICEF/UNI153541/Lyon
Child sits on ledge with soft toy Child sits on ledge with soft toy
Child sits on ledge with soft toy

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One day there was an explosion. We were surrounded by soldiers and helicopters were flying above us. I thought I was going to die. But I didn’t want to die. And I didn’t want to go to jail. I don’t know how or where I got the energy, but I managed to escape.

I thought about my mother then. My death would have been a major blow to her.

Once, I was almost killed. A bullet flew right over my head. I still have a scar.

I wouldn’t go back there. I want to move on with my life. The years I spent there were wasted. When you leave, you have to start from scratch.

© UNICEF/UN013302/LeMoyne

My message to young people who want to do what I did? That they need to think really hard first. You don’t just join and that’s it. It’s a big responsibility. If you do any damage, they will do things to you that you wouldn’t like.

Angelina (name changed to protect privacy), 23

 

Hope for child soldiers in Colombia


Soon after we spoke to Angelina, UNICEF welcomed a historic agreement: that all children under the age of 15 released from the ranks of Colombia's main armed opposition group, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP). FARC-EP and the Colombian government will also plan for the release of all other children under 18.

This is a landmark announcement in a country where conflict has spanned five decades. UNICEF will be there to support the release of the children, help them reintegrate into their communities and rebuild their lives.

Protect children from violence


One in nine children alive today is growing up in a conflict zone. Millions are being robbed of their education, exposed to horrific violence and pushed beyond the boundaries of human suffering. They are twice as likely to die from preventable diseases before their fifth birthdays.

But UNICEF is working every day to protect children in conflict zones and wherever the need is greatest in 190 countries. Our teams urgently need support to:

  • Deliver lifesaving health and nutrition supplies
  • Keep children safe and learning in temporary classrooms
  • Help victims of violence reconnect with their families and recover with psychosocial support
  • Tackle child marriage, trafficking and exploitation.
You can help continue this vital work, wherever children need us most. By signing up with a monthly gift, you can join our Global Parents in making a powerful commitment: that wherever a child is born and whatever comes their way, we'll give them a life, a chance, a choice.

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