Authorities in Peru say security forces have rescued a record number of women and children from the Shining Path, drawing attention to the insurgent group's alleged recruitment practices.
Peru's Vice Minister of Defense Ivan Vega said special forces rescued 26 children and 13 women, who were being held captive by the Shining Path in the tri-river valley region known as the VRAEM, reported El Comercio. A Peruvian official said this was the largest number of minors that had ever been recovered from a Shining Path camp, reported The Telegraph.
Vega stated some of the women were kidnapped 25 years ago from a convent and were forced to have sex with rebel militants, according to EFE. "Many of the children who were born [in the camp] were the result of Shining Path members raping the women," Vega said.
The head of Peru's Counter-Terrorism Directorate, General Jose Baella Malca, said the minors who were rescued represent one-third of all the children being held by the Shining Path, reported La Republica.
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The Shining Path has been severely weakened in recent years -- authorities have killed or arrested a number of their top leaders, and the VRAEM counts as the rebel group's last remaining stronghold. In response to these pressures, the recruitment of children (who are known as "pioneers") has reportedly become a key tactic that has enabled the rebel group to sustain its forces.
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The operation is one indication of the security forces' ongoing campaign against the Shining Path's grip in their stronghold, the VRAEM. Peru was forced to abandon its coca eradication program in the VRAEM last year due to the security risks posed by the rebel group, and authorities have long struggled to establish a strong state presence in the remote jungle region.
Other rebel groups in Latin America such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have also turned to child recruitment as a way to support their cause. In fact, the recruitment of children is popular among criminal groups throughout the region because they are seen as a source of highly dispensable human labor.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the operation highlighted the "exploitative" means by which the Shining Path maintains its ranks. We have modified this due to lack to testimony thus far from the women and children found at the camp.