Colombia's war on children

Originally published



Guerrilla groups, paramilitaries, government armed forces and national police all perpetrate violence and abuses against civilians, including children and adolescents. These are infractions of international humanitarian law and human rights, yet these crimes are often committed with a high level of impunity. Young people have been killed and maimed, victimized by sexual violence, lured and forced into the ranks of combatants, used as informants, marked as targets and driven from their homes. Young people have been devastated by the culture of crime and violence that has evolved in Colombia due to the nexus of armed conflict, illegal drug trafficking and proliferation of small arms.

  • From October 1996 to September 1999, 49 children were extrajudicially executed, with four cases attributed to government employees, 24 to paramilitaries and 21 to guerrillas.

  • During the same period, 14 young people were reported tortured and left alive and 38 children were killed in 11 massacres, along with adults. Paramilitaries were the reported killers of 15 of the child victims, and guerrillas of the remaining 23.
Violations of Children's Security and Rights:
(Sources cited below for this information are included in text and at end of report.)
  • Estimated 175,000 to 220,000 refugees and 2.5 million IDPs, 48 to 55 percent are under 18 years old;

  • At least 100,000 landmines in Colombia, causing at least 96 mine-related child deaths in 2002;

  • Between 11,000 and 14,000 child soldiers; indigenous and Afro-Colombian children are often targeted for recruitment;

  • Government armed forces, paramilitary and guerrilla groups have blocked humanitarian supply shipments, cutting children and their families off from healthcare, medicine, food and other necessary supplies;

  • Estimated 3 million children aged 11 to 17 are not in school. Schools are used for military operations and as recruiting grounds;

  • Rate of rape of adolescent girls is estimated as 2.5 per every 1,000 young women. Rape, sexual torture and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls are used as tactics to destabilize the population;

  • Estimates range from 20,000 to 35,000 children forced into commercial sexual work;

  • Average of 27.5 children kidnapped each month;

  • Estimated 15,000 to 30,000 street children in Colombia in desperate and dangerous conditions, such as being targeted for "social cleansing";

  • Approximately 4,000 children killed with small arms every year.
Selected Recommendations :
  • Guerrilla and Paramilitary groups must end killings and maiming of children and all civilians, torture, mutilation of cadavers, sexual violence, death threats and intimidation and indiscriminate use of weapons.

  • The government of Colombia must immediately halt all support or tolerance for paramilitary units, police and security forces carrying out atrocities against civilians, including cessation of all logistical and technical support.

  • The United Nations Security Council should include the conflict in Colombia on the agenda of the Security Council as an urgent matter of international peace and security, based on its regional implications and its severe, life-threatening impact on children.

  • Donors should fully fund the UN's Consolidated Appeal for Humanitarian Assistance in Colombia, with special attention to programs supporting children's security and rights.

  • The U.S. government should redirect military funding related to the wars on drugs and terrorism in Colombia to programs that protect children, including those related to health, education, HIV/AIDS awareness and testing, landmine awareness; and those for particularly vulnerable children, including street children and children forced into sex work.
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