As war rages on in Colombia, children continue to be at high risk of recruitment. Young people from abusive or impoverished households are lured into joining armed groups in hopes of a better life.
Child soldiers are often victims of physical, psychological, emotional and sexual violence. Many grow up knowing nothing but a life of combat. Some manage to escape. For most, the trauma inhibits their ability to develop as healthy members of society.
Stella Duque Cuesta is a clinical psychologist and director of MADRE’s partner Taller de Vida. She recently visited New York for an event to present findings from a report called “Stop Hunting Children!” The report documents acts of sexual violence committed against children in the armed conflict. The event was organized by WATCHLIST and COALICO.
Researchers for the report used 15 government databases of registered survivors aged 12 to 18. One key finding indicates that, from 2008 to 2012, approximately 48,915 cases of sexual violence occurred in the context of the conflict. Out the total cases registered, 41,313 of the survivors are Afro-Colombian and Indigenous girls.
This data is incomplete data and sexual violence is often widely under-reported. There are likely thousands of children who were victimized but scared into silence.
Several civil society organizations in Colombia coordinated the report. This included Taller de Vida’s “Saquen mi cuerpo de la guerra (“Take my body out of the war”) campaign. This initiative uses art therapy to help children harmed by the conflict to overcome their trauma. Overcoming the stigma of sexual violence, the youth also organize community exhibits of their work.
Stella explained, “The girls and young women involved in the armed conflict want to participate in the transitional justice process, because they do not want other girls to suffer the same [trauma that they experienced].”
The campaign’s goal is to bring local and international attention to the issue of sexual violence against children.
They also want the Colombian government to be held accountable and forced to take action.
“We must demand zero tolerance of sexual violence by armed actors, and we must build the political will of civil society to end this practice,” said Stella.
In February, MADRE's Program Director Natalia Caruso and Human Rights Advocacy Coordinator Cassandra Atlas, visited our sister organization Taller de Vida in Bogota, Colombia. While there, three young girls who had escaped armed conflict in Colombia shared what they envision for country's future.
Person 1: Personally, for me, I want that tomorrow be better than today, without so many drugs or violence. I want my Colombia to be free of violence, that's what I want.
Person 2: Me, I want Colombia to be free. That one can go out in the streets fearing nothing...they won't be robbed, killed. They can go out in the streets freely and serenely; they can be breathe serenely. That's what I want for my Colombia.
Person 3: I want that all countries, which are like Colombia, become filled with solidarity, love and other good things.
The girls are part of Taller de Vida's Saquen mi cuerpo de la guerra (“Take my body out of the war”) campaign, an initiative that uses art therapy to encourage former child soldiers to share their traumatic experiences.
Although their faces needed to be concealed due to security concerns, the young girls from Taller de Vida wanted to send a thank you to you for standing by them.
In June, we shared an update with you about the launch of the Saquen mi cuerpo de la guerra (“Take my body out of the war”) campaign, an initiative displaying photos and texts created by former child soldiers who participate in art therapy workshops run by Taller de Vida, MADRE’s sister organization in Colombia.
Using photography and other expressive art mediums, these former child soldiers were able to express themselves artistically and share their experiences of armed conflict. Today, I am very happy to share with you some of the powerful photographs and commentaries created by the children who participated in this campaign.
“Nadie tiene derecho a utilizar mi cuerpo...
solo tenía 13 años "nunca debí haber vivido el abuso y el horror,- saquen mi cuerpo de la guerra”-
“Nobody has the right to use my body…
I was only 13 years old “I never should have experienced the abuse and the horror, - take my body out of the war -”
“Soy un alma en pena” –Fue una experiencia difícil, me siento como tierra seca, como pedacitos de recuerdos que no me dejan, que me obligan a recordar eso”
“I am a soul in sorrow” – It was a difficult experience, I feel like dried earth, like little pieces of memories that do not leave me, that force me to remember that”
Thanks to the generous support of people like you, MADRE recently sent support to our partners at Taller de Vida for their lifesaving programs with former child soldiers.
With this support, Taller de Vida will be able to continue providing psychosocial counseling and educational training to Colombia’s Afro-descendant and Indigenous youth who are affected by Colombia’s armed conflict. Taller de Vida will also continue running their art therapy program, where young girls and boys displaced by war and poverty can participate in theater, dance, capoeira and photography classes as a means of expressing their feelings and frustrations through creative outlets. With your support, these youth are developing their self-expression and their talents in the art, and working together to envision and create a culture of peace.
Thank you for supporting this important project!
We recently received an email from Stella Duque, director of our sister organization Taller de Vida. She shared some exciting updates from her programs with former child soldiers and children at high risk of being recruited in Colombia’s armed conflict.
Taller de Vida is preparing to launch an important campaign to confront the recruitment of child soldiers in Colombia. For many children from poor families, joining an armed group is the only way to get a meal each day. Once a child is recruited, armed groups become the only family they know. They grow up knowing nothing but a life of combat, perpetuating a war that has already lasted more than 40 years.
Stella and Taller de Vida are working to break this harmful cycle. Their programs offer trauma counseling, art therapy and recreational programs that allow children to heal from their experiences of war.
The campaign "Take my body out of the war" (Saquen mi cuerpo de la guerra) will feature an exposition of photos and texts created by the former child soldiers who participate in Taller de Vida’s art therapy workshops. The exposition will give these children a platform to raise awareness, raise their voices and share their experiences of life in armed conflict.
This campaign, like so much of Taller de Vida's work, will serve as a therapeutic outlet for these children. Thank you for supporting this crucial work!
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