Colombia is close to a peace agreement to end its 50-year-long civil war – and this week the guerrilla army known as the FARC promised to stop recruiting children. But a Miami-based group that rescues those kids is meeting the pledge with skepticism.
"We're extremely cautious about what this means," says Philippe Houdard, who heads the Developing Minds Foundation – whose most important work may be helping child soldiers in Colombia return to normal lives.
At its facilities in Medellín, Colombia, Developing Minds has rehabilitated more than a thousand of those children.
"Some of them are physically maimed, almost all of them are psychologically debilitated," says Houdard. "It's infuriating. These are kids that have not had a childhood."
Both sides in Colombia’s conflict have illegally conscripted thousands if not tens of thousands of minors. But the Marxist rebels known as the FARC are especially guilty. At peace talks in Havana this week, the guerrillas vowed they would no longer arm kids.
Houdard says the world should take a wait-and-see approach.
"I'm encouraged by the news, but I'm not impressed," he says. "The FARC has a very long history of deception and lies. We've heard this type of thing before in the past, but we've continued to receive child soldiers in our program. So we'll see if they live up to it."
The Colombian government and the FARC hope to announce a peace agreement next month.