The Children of the Shining Path

“Safety and security don’t just happen,
they are the result of collective consensus and public investment.
We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society,
a life free of violence and fear.”
Nelson Mandela

For most Peruvians, the Shining Path (or “Sendero Luminoso” in Spanish)[1] is synonym for fear, suffering and death. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Peru (“TRC”), they are responsible for the 54% of the almost 70 000 killings that occurred during the 20 years of internal armed conflict.[2]

For two decades, the Shining Path committed massacres, forced disappearances, terrorist attacks and executions, in the attempt of winning the war against the Peruvian government. In 1992 its leader, Abimael Guzmán, was captured and sentenced to life imprisonment. Later on, he called for a ceasefire and offered to negotiate with the government. From this moment, actions significantly decreased, the group was divided and different leaders have unsuccessfully worked for the resurgence of the movement. Nowadays, the group’s focuses on coca farmers and its actions are reduced to a location known as the VRAE (initials for “Valle del Río Apurímac y Ene”, meaning “Valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers”).

However, in these last days, some images caused an enormous impact on the Peruvian population: different national programmes showed photographs and footage of children brandishing weapons and being trained and indoctrinated in the so-called “Popular schools”.[3]

According to the report, these children stay in childcare until the age of 6. Afterwards, they learn the Marxist Leninist’s discourse and war tactics. For example, the Peruvian Military intelligence believes that after the ambush in Sanabamba (April, 2009) children were in charge of the coup de grace on Peruvian soldiers and took out their eyes as a sign of bravery.

What does International Law say?

Under International Law, the participation of children under 18 is prohibited and the recruitment and use of children under the age of 15 is a war crime. These have been recognized in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (articles 38 and 39),[4] the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (which raised the minimum age for participation in armed conflict from 15 to 18 years),[5] the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the customary law on International Humanitarian Law, the ILO Convention 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour and the Rome Statute (article 8.2.b.xxvi). Therefore, the International Community recognizes it as a non-negotiable standard on Human Rights.[6]

The continuous use of children by the Shining Path constitutes a flagrant violation of International Law. The preamble to the Convention on the Rights of the Child recalls that, in the Universal Declaration, the United Nations “has proclaimed that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance”. By using them as combatants, human shields, cookers, messengers, among others, they put children in extreme vulnerability. Additionally, while affecting their rights to play and engage in recreational activities appropriate to their age, to receive education, etc., their dignity is being violated, which breaks the fundamental guiding principle of international human rights law.[7] States, therefore, shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.[8]

It’s important to recall that the prohibition of recruitment, training and use of children in armed conflicts not only generates responsibility for state actors, but to non-state actors as well.[9] In this way, the Peruvian State is obliged to persecute and to prosecute those who trained the children in the “Popular schools” and used them during hostilities.[10]Furthermore, the ICC is also entitled to persecute and prosecute those who recruited children under 15 (if the admissibility requirements are fulfilled, according to article 17 of the Rome Statute, and if it’s proved that the recruitment and use of children in hostilities is being committed as a part of a plan or a policy).

This being said, it is clear that International Law gives an answer to the Child Soldier problem. In this case, both the State and the International Criminal Court are legally entitled to prosecute those who committed the before-mentioned crime.

Reintegration of Child Soldiers

However, a big question is left unanswered: how to reintegrate these children to the Society? These children, who have been taught to kill and to fight, in some cases by their own parents, have to be reintegrated to the system they reject. How to deal with it? Any transitional justice mechanism could be useful to do so?

Child soldiers have often been called “future barbarians” and “killing machines.”[11] Many child soldiers virtually grow up within an armed movement, like in this case.[12] They may have joined for protection, face an environment where joining an armed group seemed the only choice in life and in some cases, they have been kidnapped and forced to participate in hostilities.

Demobilization and reintegration of child soldiers is often portrayed as hopeless. Yet, different studies (like the 1996 UN Study  on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children[13]and the World Bank Study on Child Soldiers: Preventing, Demobilizing and Reintegrating) demonstrate that children and youths involved in armed conflict can re-engage positive social relations and productive civilian lives. It is not easy, however, and depends crucially on the political will and resources to include child soldiers in peace agreements and demobilization programs and to support their reintegration into family and community.[14]

The International Community has organized different projects in order to reintegrate child soldiers. Organizations like the Coalition to Stop the Use of  Child Soldiers, UNICEF and the World Bank have planned activities based on prevention, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (which includes economic and livelihood support and in some cases providing psycho-social support).[15] There is even an interesting proposal which suggests reintegrating child soldiers through sports.[16] It is important that these programmes consider local, social and cultural conceptions of children and youths, their role in society and stages of development and responsibility.[17] Most importantly, they should be inclusive, recognizing and including child soldiers in all stages.

In conclusion, the child soldiers’ problem should not only be seen as a military and legal problem. It is a complex situation that should imply a well-organized response from the State, by defending these children, prosecuting those who committed the crime and organizing reintegration programmes that would assure the accomplishment of these children´s rights for their present and future.

To watch the report “The Children of the Shining Path” (“Los Hijos de Sendero Luminoso”) from the Peruvian programme “Panorama” (Spanish only):

If you are interested in the Child Soldier problem, please visit:

UN World Map of Child Soldiers:

[1] The Communist party of Peru, known as the Shining Path, is a subversive organization that in 1980 started an internal armed conflict against the Peruvian State. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Peru has stated that for the years this conflict lasted, the Shining Path committed serious crimes considered as crimes against humanity. The number of victims of this group is up to 31,331 people. Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Chapter 1: the Armed Actors. In: (Spanish only).  The Shining Path believed that by imposing a dictatorship of the proletariat, inducing Cultural Revolution, and eventually sparking world revolution, they could arrive at pure communism. In:

[2] According to the TRC, the internal armed conflict began in 1980 and ended in 2000.

[3] This material was obtained from the Peruvian armed forces, after a confrontation with the terrorist group.

[4] The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history.

[5] Today, two-thirds of the world’s countries have ratified this treaty, known as the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. However, 61 countries have not ratified the treaty and made clear their absolute commitment to ending the use of child soldiers. In:

[6] In:

[7] Committee on the Rights of the Child. General comment No.8 (2006), par. 16.

[8] Article 6.2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

[9] More about Human Rights obligations of Non-state actors, read: CLAPHAM, Andrew. Human Rights obligations of Non-state actors. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

[10] Susana Villarán, major of Lima, demanded President Alan García to defend the children in VRAE. Legislative Decree(DL) 1094 included war crimes (enlistment or recruitment of children under 18 among them) in the Peruvian Military Justice Code. This decree was severely criticized as war crimes should be considered in the ordinary Criminal Code.

[11] VERHEY, Beth. Child Soldiers: Preventing, Demobilizing and Reintegrating. In:

[12] In:

[13] In:

[14] VERHEY, Beth. Op.cit.

[15] In:

[16] In:

[17] VERHEY, Beth. Op.cit.


About Jessica Maeda Jerí

Peruvian. Food lover. Peace lover.
This entry was posted in By Jessica Maeda, International Criminal Law, International Human Rights Law, International Humanitarian Law. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Children of the Shining Path

  1. Carla Hoe says:

    It is outrageous that something like that still happens in today’s world. I think the worst and biggest problem in South America is the culture of impunity. There’s this rooted tendency to leave unpunished those most responsible for crimes like the ones in question. I definitely think it’s something cultural and corruption plays a huge role on that.

    • It’s true.
      I believe it’s important to highlight the role of prevention in this problem. Peru is a state party of the Optional Protocol, which implies it is obliged to adopt measures to prevent the recruitment of children. According to this, the Peruvian State must reassure its presence: from basic services to a bigger military presence in the surroundings.
      However, corruption and a weak commitment to Human Rights lead to this kind of situations, in which the most vulnerable get affected.

      • Carla says:

        How was Peru’s report by the Human Rights Committee in this issue?

      • I havent found anything related in the HRC. I read the last report of the CRC, in which it recommended that Peru ought to adequately and effectively implement all the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in particular those related to the Integral Plan of Reparations for the victims of violence, and to pay particular attention to the consequences of the armed conflict for children. In: CRC. Consideration of Reports submitted by State parties under article 44 of the Convention. Concluding Observations of the Committee of the Rights of the Child: Peru. 14 March 2006, p. 10.

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