For Farc rebels, peace deal brings baby boom after 52 years of pregnancy ban

About 80 female guerrilla fighters are now pregnant after years of being expected to put the war before children – even if that meant undergoing illegal abortions

The first time Margot got pregnant, she had an abortion. Raising a child would have been incompatible with her life as a guerrilla fighter in Latin America’s longest war, she said.

“How can you fight the enemy and run from air raids when you’re six months pregnant?” she said.

But that war is finally over, after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, signed a peace deal with the government in December – and Margot has a three-week-old baby girl named Ashley Yareli.

“Now it won’t be a problem to raise her ourselves,” said Margot in a jungle camp in south-eastern Guaviare province, just days before she, her partner Dairo and baby Ashley moved to a special demobilization zone.

Ashley is part of unexpected peace dividend for the Farc: now the fighting has ended, the rebel army has undergone something of a baby boom.

During the 52-year war, rebel women – who made up about a third of the Farc fighters – were obliged to use birth control. Those who became pregnant were obliged to leave their babies with family members, or even forced to have abortions – even as late as at eight months.

In 2015, a Farc “nurse” was arrested in Spain and is expected to be extradited to Colombia to face charges of murder, attempted murder and abortion without consent for allegedly performing 150 illegal abortions on rebel fighters between 1998 and 2000. In Colombia abortion is legal only in cases of rape, when the mother’s life is in danger or if a malformation of the fetus is detected.

Farc have denied forcing women and girls to abort, and all the women interviewed for this story said they had terminated earlier pregnancies by choice, though they admitted that becoming pregnant was frowned upon.

Rebel commanders decided to ease restrictions on pregnancies about three years ago, according to Mauricio Jaramillo, a member of the Farc’s ruling secretariat and a physician.

With the ban lifted, women and couples have given in to their long-repressed desire to become parents. Some 60 babies were born during the peace process, and about 80 other Farc members are currently pregnant.

That’s changed Richard Mejía’s work dramatically. As a Farc medic, Richard considers himself a trauma specialist and internist, though he has never had formal medical training. In the heat of war he had to learn to remove shrapnel from his comrades hurt in battle in makeshift surgery tents. Not any more.

farc babies
Richard Mejía, a Farc medic, checks five-month-old Eric Andrés for rashes at a rebel camp near the town of San Miguel in Colombia’s Guaviare province. Photograph: Sibylla Brodzinsky

“I haven’t seen a war-related trauma in two years,” he said, as he examined Eric Andrés and Andrea Thalia, a pair of five-month-old twins asleep in hammocks at the rebel camp. “Now I treat nappy rash.”

Edith, the twins’ mother, feels blessed to have had two babies at once. “I had wanted babies for a while, but in the war, you just can’t,” she said. And even though she and the father of the babies broke up when she was two months pregnant, Edith says she has received support from him and his new partner, who take care of the twins a few days of week in their own tented hut within the same rebel camp.

Her commander sent Edith to a city to have the babies at a private clinic, where Farc picked up the tab. “The organization has provided us new mothers with everything: cribs, diapers, toys, medication,” she said.

Katerina, 31, was one of few guerrillas allowed to give birth to a child in the midst of war. Brayan was born in 2003 just when the government of former president Álvaro Uribe launched a fierce offensive against the guerrillas.

“I was allowed to keep him because there was no one to perform an abortion where we were,” she said. When he was five months old, she handed him over to her own mother to raise him. In the years since, she’s seen the boy just three times, when he was four, seven and 14 years old.

That won’t happen with her second son Johan, born last September. Johan coos in a mosquito net-covered crib set up in the tent Katerina shares with her partner Fardey, 25. “I wasn’t able to be with my other son like I will be with this one,” said Katerina. “This time I can raise him myself, in peace.”

Not everyone it ready to dive into motherhood, however. Francelli, a 32-year-old Farc member who joined the guerrillas when she was 14, said she understands the desire of her comrades to want children, but said she’s not ready quite yet. “My partner and I have decided to wait to see how this transition to peace is going to be,” she said while shelling peas in a camp kitchen.

“I don’t want to be weighed down with children just as we start a new life,” she said. “Once we know what that life will look like, then maybe.”


Sibylla Brodzinsky in San Miguel

The GuardianTramp

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