Measures taken by the Colombian government to prevent armed groups using child soldiers are “inadequate,” a coalition of NGOs said in a report Tuesday.
A group of NGOs united under the name Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict stated released a 60-page document analyzing the situation of children being co-opted into guerrilla groups responding to the loss of “thousands of members in the attacks the government has launched against them.”
Titled “No One to Trust: Children and Armed Conflict in Colombia,” the report says the Colombian government has not done enough to protect children from violence, especially in remote areas where the armed groups are in control.
The Colombian state is “absent or ignoring the horrific violations that occur and allow these armed agents to operate with impunity,” it claims.
The Colombian armed forces were also guilty of exploiting children, said the report. Though the military did not recruit children as soldiers, it had used them as “informers or spies” to gather information on guerrilla groups.
“Levels of violence are incredibly high. Children are threatened on all sides and have nowhere to turn for help,” said researcher Yvonne Kemper.
According to a statement by Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon last November, around 13% of the 24,000 FARC members who have defected were recruited when they were minors. He said the departments of Caqueta, Antioquia, Cudinamarca and Choco have the highest rates of child recruitment.
NGO representives visited Colombia last year to interview children between 10 and 16, some of whom had been child soldiers or victims of kidnapping, rape, and torture. The researchers also talked to relatives, community leaders, and members of Colombian authorities including Vice President Angelino Garzon.
The directer of the alliance of NGOs, Eva Smets, reiterated that “the protection of the rights of children in Colombia should be the basis on which to build true peace in the country.”
The report offers a number of recommendations to the Colombian government on how it can change the situation and called for support groups and donors like the UN Security Council, the U.S., and the European Union to take “specific measures” to help Colombian children.
“We understand that the Colombian government and its bilateral partners want to move on, but now is not the time to downplay the threats that minors face,” said Smets.