Even as the violence shows signs of winding down, with peace talks underway between the government and the country’s largest rebel groups, children continue to suffer the direct effects of Colombia’s 50-year armed conflict.
An annual report put together for the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) Security Council found that at least 81 Colombian children had been recruited into illegal armed groups in 2013. Of those, 58 children went to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia’s largest rebel group and 17 to the National Liberation Army (ELN), its second largest, while in six cases, the group in question could not be identified.
The report, entitled “Children and Armed Conflict,” discussed only cases which the UN was able to verify and assessed the situations in 23 conflict-stricken countries. Incidents rates in Colombia, it said, “remained underreported” in 2013, making any available statistics conservative.
Children and peace talks
The Colombian government has been involved in peace talks with the FARC since November 2012, and talks between the government and the ELN are currently pending.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon suggested adding a new sub-item to the six-point formal negotiation agenda of the FARC talks: “the issue of children and armed conflict.” He suggested the addition could fall under the third theme, “End of the Armed Conflict,” or under the fifth, “Victims.”
In theory, the issue of victims, currently being discussed at the peace talks in Havana, Cuba, would include attention to the situation of children. Secretary Ki-moon said, however, that putting specific emphasis on the topic would be an important step to “reflect concerns about the protection of children.”
“If we are serious about protecting children,
we must demand accountability.”
“What is common to most of these conflict situations is that child rights are violated in total impunity,” said Leila Zerrougui, the secretary-general’s special representative on children and armed conflict, in a statement addressing the broader report.
“If we are serious about protecting children, we must demand accountability.” Impunity is one of the overarching problems facing conflict reconciliation in Colombia.
Though various special initiatives exist to address issues relating to children and the conflict, efforts to eliminate the threat of landmines from play areas, reintegrate former child soldiers into society, and prevent victimization and recruitment have been limited in their effectiveness, as many of the problems they attempt to mitigate are tangential to the larger conflict.
The Colombian Family Welfare Institute reported that 342 children — including 114 girls and 228 boys — were separated from armed groups in 2013, according to the UN.
In 2012, the Institute documented 188 children were separated from the FARC, 37 from the ELN, 34 from armed groups that emerged after the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia and four from the People’s Liberation Army.
Although a complete number is unknown, 300 cases of recruitment were reported in 23 states in 2012, according to the UN.
According to the institute, at least 5,417 children were separated from armed groups since 1999. So far there have been 69 convictions for recruitment of children, five of them in accordance with the Justice and Peace Law, which saw to the demobilization of the country’s AUC paramilitary bloc, and 64 issued by the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General. In total, seven convictions were obtained in 2013, according to the report.
But to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said more needs to be done.
“Despite these efforts, the children continued to have difficulty obtaining access to justice and impunity for violations against children remains a concern,” according to the report.
The UN has an action plan to resolve the conflict which in accordance to the agreement to criminal recruitment of children by armed forces, national campaigns and appointing child protection specialists, 20 groups have signed action plans. Colombia has not signed the UN’s action plan.
Fatalities and injuries reported
Colombia’s internal armed conflict has taken approximately 220,000 lives since 1958, with 81.5% of which are civilians, according to a report published in 2013 by the government-created National Center for Historical Memory, as cited by Human Rights Watch.
In 2013, armed groups killed at least 43 children, while an additional 83 children were injured in attacks and landmines or explosives of war mutilated 28 children, according to the UN.
The previous year, in 2012, 13 children were killed by anti-personnel mines or explosives of war at least 52 children were injured.
Sexual violence against children in Colombia
The UN’s data shows reports of sexual violence against children by the country’s armed rebel groups and by members of the Colombian security forces, though the numbers obtained are admittedly thin.
Between January and October 2013, five cases of sexual violence against children were reported by armed groups while 17 cases (two boys and 15 girls) by the Colombian Armed Forces, according to Human Rights Watch, which cited the National Institute of Forensic Science.
Girls continue to be majority of victims of sexual violence attributed to members of non-state armed groups, according to the UN.
In October of 2012 in the southwest state of Nariño, members of the army reportedly sexually abused at least 11 girls, most of them of Afro-Colombian ethnicity, according to the UN.
Overall, Afro and indigenous populations continue to be disproportionately affected by the armed conflict, according to the Human Rights Watch.
- 81 niños fueron reclutados por Grupos Armados ilegales en Colombia durante 2013: ONU (El Espectador)
- Child rights being violated in conflict situations with total impunity, says UN official (UN)
- Children and Armed Conflict (UN)
- Action Plans with Armed Forces and Armed Groups (UN)
- World Report 2014 (Human Rights Watch)