LIMA, Peru — Renewed fighting between Peruvian security forces and a remnant faction of the Shining Path guerrillas has brought to light new evidence that the Marxist rebel group is using children as combatants.
In April, a band of rebels, which witnesses said included fighters as young as 13, kidnapped and later released of 40 workers at natural gas company in a jungle hamlet in Peru’s central Amazon.
The brazen raid, the first of its kind in years, prompted a crackdown by state forces in Peru’s deadly Apurimac and Ene River Valleys, known as the VRAE, where half the country’s cocaine is produced.
The raid also has generated more evidence against the notorious terrorist group, which waged an ideological war against the state in the 1980s and 1990s and continues to convert children as young as 7 into combatants and impregnate captured adolescents in order to sustain their ranks.
“We must save these children from the terrorists,” Oscar Valdes, president of Peru’s council of ministers, said shortly after the raid.
Mr. Valdes called on nongovernmental organizations to help bring an end to the group’s recruitment.
Teresa Carpio, director of the Peruvian branch of the international advocacy group Save the Children, said the Peruvian government has not provided estimates on how many children the group is holding. But based on journalists’ accounts, she said, an estimated 80 minors are being detained inside a 12,000-square-mile swath of remote jungle.
Young children indoctrinated
Ms. Carpio said the scale of the problem in Peru pales in comparison with regions such as Africa, but it stands out for another reason.
“The case here in Peru is different from Africa because the Shining Path are using children starting at the ages of 4, 5 and 6,” she said.
A Peruvian television station, Canal N, recently broadcast video of child combatants thought to have been taken in 2010. It shows small children marching through the high jungles, some with machine guns, others with cargo.
Some footage shows soldiers, including some who appear to be preteens, in military formation with AK-47 assault rifles. Children are shown studying communist propaganda. In one shot of a jungle encampment, toddlers are clearly visible.
According to media reports and testimony of children who escaped, the group begins a Marxist education as early as age 2. By 5, many are sent to a military camp. They enter training to become snipers by 11, and the “little pioneers” become full-fledged combatants by 13.
Officials say the children also serve as human shields to prevent airborne strikes from military helicopters.
An additional problem, officials say, is that young captives freed from remote jungle encampments must be resocialized because they have grown up knowing only their captors.