Some girls live with the fear that if they leave, their families will pay the price.

Everyday life is a brutal reality for Colombian children who've become captive soldiers in a horrifically violent civil war. No better symbol of Colombia's destruction of love and tenderness exists than the widespread use of children as soldiers. It's hard to say how many children fight in the civil war. Human Rights Watch, in a 2003 report, estimated that 11,000 kids—perhaps a third of all guerrillas—are in the armed factions. Yet even that number likely falls far short. Teenagers interviewed for this article reported units in which most of the combatants were under 18. Many of these children join militias to flee their poor and abusive homes. Sam Quinones reports on South America's youngest guerrillas and the shelters struggling to save them.

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