Will Children of Colombia Know Peace at Last?
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 22 2016 (IPS) – “No child in Colombia today knows what it is like to live in a country at peace,” said UN Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) Representative in Colombia Roberto De Bernardi during the launch of a new report.
The new report, titled ‘Childhood in the Time of War: Will the children of Colombia know peace at last?’, illustrates the profound impacts of the country’s 50-year conflict on youth.
According to national data, collected since 1985, approximately 2.5 million children have been affected by war. Of this population, 2.3 million have been displaced, 45,000 children have been killed, and 8,000 have disappeared.
Children under the age of five comprise of 1 in 10 of those killed, abducted, disappeared and tortured, and 1 in 5 of the total number of displaced persons.
Indigenous and Afro-Colombian children have been especially vulnerable during the conflict, representing 12 percent of the displaced, 15 percent of sexual violence survivors, and 17 percent of those tortured.
“It is time to turn the page,” De Bernardi remarked.
Though there has been some improvement since peace talks were initiated in 2013, people under the age of 18 continue to bear the brunt of suffering.
Persistent fighting between rival groups have displaced 230,000 children, killed 75 children and injured another 180. The UN also estimates approximately 1,000 children—or one child per day–were recruited by non-state armed groups.
Children have also been unable to attend school due to threat of physical and sexual violence, recruitment, and the presence of mines in and around schools.
As peace negotiations inch towards a final agreement, ending one of the longest wars in modern history, UNICEF urges parties to consider and prioritize children’s interests first.
“Even if the peace agreement were to be signed tomorrow, children will continue to be at risk of all kinds of violations including recruitment, landmines and sexual exploitation,” De Bernardi stated.
Though the main parties to the conflict are the country’s Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) who are currently involved in ongoing talks, other armed groups remain active in the country including the National Liberation army (ELN) which threaten sustained violence and instability.
UNICEF stressed the importance of providing social and psychological support to children affected by conflict, helping them reunite with families and reintegrate into society.
This is especially needed for vulnerable communities with few resources and even fewer options other than to join an armed group in order to survive.
“Unless more and better resources are invested in creating opportunities for children and young people to thrive, long lasting peace in Colombia will continue to be an elusive dream,” De Bernardi concluded in the report.
UNICEF has made an appeal of $52 million to provide essential services to children in Colombia.