“ALIAS MARIA”— Child Soldiers


Child Soldiers

Amos Lassen

Colombian director José Luis Rugeles’ “Alias Maria” looks at child soldiers and child exploitation in a broader sense. Rugeles uses the inconvenient and human-rights-startling angle of motherhood of an underage guerrilla fighter bearing a child and a loaded gun while she is a child herself amidst the gunfire of war. 

Maria (Karen Torres), a 13-year old female child soldier in guerrilla squadrons buried deep in lush jungle. She sees a fellow fighter giving birth, a privilege reserved for just a few under these conditions. We learn that all women are expected to come forward and declare the pregnancy for an early termination and this is rigorously obeyed. Maria conceals the fact she is four months pregnant and no one knows including the child’s father who is her commanding officer. Maria finds her entrusted with guarding and transporting a newborn while she contemplates her next move. 

The ongoing Colombian conflict between leftist guerrillas and right-wing militia is the backdrop for the story. While the film has a fictional narrative, there is a lot of truth to be seen here. Ill-fitted combatants are treated as physical equals to their adult counterparts in highly demanding conditions. They are expected to follow the same orders, with no special regards taken considering their age and fragile bodies. The weakest member of the party, the little boy (Erik Ruiz), doesn’t enjoy much respect from his co-combatants that bully him during a dangerous mission. 

We see several close-ups of hardworking ants carrying leaves of much bigger weight than themselves and these are a constant remainder of the kids’ triumph and continual grasping beyond their limits, both physically and mentally. We do not learn how two kids ended up in such company or why they continue to put up with the coarse treatment although the penalty for desertion is likely to be the reason for this. The anonymity of the protagonist thrusts viewers into the position of keen observers trying to understand the circumstances and possible reasons why these children have been pulled from a safe family environment. No further allusions are given toward their parents. For a brief moment, Maria sees a group of peers upon and her gaze lingers bit too long in a mute indication of lost innocence.Both central figures, Maria and the little boy, separate the film’s theme into two subthemes. The prevailing one underlines the unethical and alarming status of child-soldiers an indictment of the amoral exploitation. Underage pregnant Maria shows female-child mishandling. She is driven to protect her unborn child at all costs. 

About two years ago, it was revealed that the average age of recruits was estimated at only 13 years in Colombia. Maria’s situation in life is violently replaced by her daily struggle to survive and to do so with bleak prospects for what is usually considered a normal life. We see the internal operations of guerilla warfare through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old female soldier as she’s charged with a mission concerning the transport of a leader’s newborn infant son. As intense as something like this may sound, director Rugeles makes this more of a character study. We briefly see the rituals of female soldiers being forced to undergo abortions should they become pregnant in the jungle. In all of its aspects this is quite a sobering film that is often hard to watch but important for just that reason.

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