On the occasion of the World Day against the use of children in armed conflict, celebrated on February 12, the campaign "Soñar es un Derecho" and the PANDI Agency prepared a report on how domestic violence is one of the reasons why many children end up in the ranks of illegal armed groups.
- Illegal recruitment of underage children for use in armed conflict is a crime in Colombia punished by International Humanitarian Law. However, this problem has found a paved way in households where children suffer domestic violence.
- According to the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences in 2012 (Colombia), in 84% of reported cases of violence against children and youngsters, the responsible were members of their own family. In some cases those children have to decide to leave home to get away from abuses, but they usually fall into more hostile environments as armed groups, becoming victims of child recruitment.
- "I wanted to get involved with a group, but a group dance. My friends told me to go with them to illegal groups, because they were offering wages and weapons training. I did not do it. Today, thanks to these recreational spaces, I work strongly training in dance and also preventing other children to join neither gangs nor illegal armed groups.” Beneficiary from the Program of Attention for Prevention to Recruitment IOM.
- " We have to draw the attention of parents to check what time we are devoting to our children, and beyond the quantity, we must give them quality time, talk to them, it is as simple as asking them how they are, give them love." Songwriter: Juanes, launch “Soñar es un Derecho”
Family as a protective entity of the rights of Children and Youngsters
In Colombia, violence against children is a serious problem and despite that media reports new cases permanently making visible the efforts of the society and the State to protect the rights and lives of this population, these may not be enough and figures continues to rise. Since 1996, with the study "Impact of Armed Conflict on Children," by Graça Machel (UN, 1996), draws the attention to this situation and highlights the serious effects on children’s lives.
The most worrying thing about this situation is that 84% of cases of violence occur inside the household.
Violence against children in their households happens because of a number of factors, conflicts generated by economic difficulties, consumption of drugs and alcohol by parents, and inconsistency between the rules they teach to their children and the ones they apply to themselves. These situations generate scenarios for psychological punishment, physical abuse, child labor since many of these children have to work to bring a living to their home, and in some cases, it arises commercial sexual exploitation by their own parents.
All of these situations, bearing in mind that Colombia is a country with an armed conflict that lasts for more than 50 years and where the child has become a victim of illegal recruitment, forces some children to seek alternative life, away from their homes, making them vulnerable to other scenarios of violence either in armed groups or gangs in urban areas.
The reality seen through figures
During the last three years the violence figures against children and youngsters have no significant changes, year to year are held constant.
Violence by Omission
According to the Code for Children and Youngsters, society has a role of co-responsibility with children and a legal obligation to report any violation of their rights. Report to authorities is not a favor, it is an obligation. However, according to Legal Medicine Registration 70% of cases remain unreported. "This leads us to think that society does not care for its children. This is violence by omission. Families, uncles, cousins, neighbors, teachers and society in general remain silent and allow that damage continues to grow, "said Ximena Norato, Pandi Agency director, who also details the following figures.
We often hear stories of children and youngsters that suffer violence on the street. The majority of the times we ask ourselves, where is the family? Why this 12 year old child is alone in a park? This shows that parents are in the first position to influence early learning and protect and prevent their children from these situations.
The recruitment of children, one of the consequences of domestic violence
"I left home when I was 12 years old because I failed fifth grade at school and my mom was going to kill me ... I took my mule, at night I climbed a tree to avoid tigers, and when the guerrilla came, I went with them" says Esperanza, who acknowledges that domestic violence expelled her to the environment that should have been the safest par excellence, her home.
83% of children and youngsters who have been in armed groups were victims of domestic violence; this figure confirms that the key reason for children being victims of recruitment by armed groups is their own family. Other factors are school dropouts (25%), not being interested in studies, and because there was no place to play or to do recreational activities. 57% of them were working before joining an armed group and they were looking for better job opportunities of which 30% did so scraping coca.
The recruitment of children by illegal armed groups is a current reality. In different regions of the country, in rural and urban areas, thousands of children and youngsters live their days dodging the threat of organizations attending acts of violence, pressure and false promises, to force them to join their armies.
Constant complaints confirm the seriousness of the situation. Between January 2008 and June 2011, the Early Warning System of the people advocacy recorded 158 risk situations concerning the illegal recruitment of children. Meanwhile, the last year, some organizations and media have documented threats and cases of this war crime in municipalities of Antioquia, Cauca, Norte de Santander and Tolima, among other departments.
Between November 1999 and January 2013 the Colombian Family Welfare Institute, ICBF, attended 5.093 children in the Specialized Care Program to Children and Adolescents Removed from Illegal Armed Groups.
Call to Action
According to these alarming figures on child recruitment in Colombia, the next 12 of February on the occasion of the World Day against the use of children in war, through the action of
"immobilize your index finger" with a paper cylinder, the program "Soñar es un derecho" seeks to raise Colombian society awareness on the importance of creating protective environments for new generations to grow away from guns. This symbolic act is a sign of commitment with the creation of environments that protect Colombian children and youth from recruitment.
Art and culture, to escape from violence
"Who wields an instrument will not wield a gun ever, I want to change weapons for microphones, drug for brushes and instruments, I dream of teenagers leaving behind the bitterness that has carried for so many years and be free". Yara, 20 years Medellin
Through recreational and leisure spaces, children found pleasure for art and culture; this is where many of them begin to build their dreams in music, dance or writing.
The campaign “Soñar es un Derecho”, generate reflections and actions against the recruitment and other forms of violence thanks to the creation of youth spaces that contribute to the leadership of children, adolescents and young people. The campaign is being developed in 14 municipalities in the Colombian territory.
The campaign is driven by the U.S. Agency for International Development - USAID, Mi Sangre Foundation and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), with the participation of entities as the ICBF, the Committee interagency of fight against children and youngsters recruitment, the High Council for Reintegration, the World Bank, UNICEF, the Norwegian council, press and media, artists and many citizens committed to peace and reconciliation.
According to Andres Agudelo, psychologist of "PAZalobien" a program of Fundación Mi Sangre, "Through artistic spaces, teenagers are searching not only to find an opportunity to live together and solve conflicts, but also self-regulate, ie, acting without fear but being aware of what they do right or wrong. "
Juan, a 24 year old member of Hip Hop C15 group from Comuna 13 in Medellin, believes that, "Any young person who is related to art develops a special sensitivity. In the context where I am is relatively dangerous, all these artistic expressions make children and young people get excited and they want to get involved, many see that we are doing something good and want to be part of it. "
"What we have to achieved through our social programs which promote social and recreational areas for children, is that our children have a life plan that allows them to dream and be supported by their families," says Diego Molano, Director of the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF).
A new alternative about parenting
Families play a critical role preventing their children get involved in scenes of violence through art. "Parents may think that young people are wasting their time, but families must understand that these are areas of violence prevention, is the opportunity to develop their own identity, imaginary new leadership, spending free time properly in order to have a sense of belonging and feel protected, " reflects Catalina Cock, Executive Director of Mi Sangre Foundation.
The family is the educational core par excellence and as a child’s first teachers, parents are in the first position to influence early learning. Indeed, family environment is a propitious space to share and promote strengthening bonds, good behaviors, and use of free time through culture, art, sport etc.
“I believe that violence starts at home, for example, if one finds out the bad people that today exist in the country, they did not have loving parents, we may not have much money but if we have a lot of love everything will go well. If someone is hit and abused throughout his or her childhood, when this person grows up, he or she will only know of violence and is going to get back at others who go on his or her way. I see that here in Cartagena women have children very young without knowing much of life, before having children, one has to stop being a child”
Kristian, Cartagena, Bolivar, 18 years old.
Mi Sangre Foundation beyond support and protection of children´s dreams, it invites their parents to accompany them, and through these spaces are woven ties between fathers and mothers, educational institutions and youth groups and building and strengthening networks of support and protection. This will prevent the children to be involved in violent situations and find a new alternative of life.
Likewise, “Sonar es un Derecho” Campaign invites society to join this strategy and public organizations to keep children protection and recruitment prevention as a priority in their agendas.
"Never stop dreaming, define what you want in life and do it, this is my philosophy, I believe the world can change, but only if adults understand that children cannot go to war, instead they should grow in peace . Many parents believe that young people grow in peace due to hard work, but it is also important to read us tales, kiss us, ask us for our dreams and most importantly, help us realize them. "Yineth Chavez, Carmen de Bolivar, Bolivar, 13 years
"Any child with lack of affection at home is vulnerable to join armed groups or gangs, whether in the countryside or in the city. Love at home heals everything, as parents we must support and listen to our children for them not to make the wrong decisions." Juanes, artist and founder of Mi Sangre Foundation.