COLOMBIA: Children and Armed Conflict

Summary: The information below is based on the 2011 report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council (A/65/820-S/2011/250) issued on 23 April 2011. More information is available in the report.

Scroll down for UN documents on Children and Armed Conflict in Colombia.

The complex humanitarian situation in Colombia is a consequence of a protracted conflict and is aggravated by structural poverty, inequality and the links between armed groups and illegal activities, including drug production and trafficking, extortion and abduction. Although significant progress has been made by the Government of Colombia in weakening the armed groups, particularly militarily, serious challenges around issues of security and human rights protection remain. In 2010, clashes intensified in departments such as Arauca, Cauca, Córdoba, Meta, Nariño and Norte de Santander, especially affecting children. Persons of African descent and indigenous communities have been particularly vulnerable. Another major consequence of the conflict is the continued displacement of the population; according to official Government information, as at September 2010 there were 61,047 new internally displaced persons, of which 30,488 were children (15,644 boys and 14,844 girls). Non-governmental sources estimate that the number of IDPs is much larger.

In July 2010, the Colombian National Economic and Social Policy Council published a document designed to coordinate Government strategies aimed at preventing the recruitment and use of children by armed groups. Government programmes and activities such as the “Protection of Children and Adolescents Demobilized from Armed Groups Operating outside the Law”, the Mine Action Programme and the Inter-agency Recruitment Prevention Commission continued under the new Government. Further, the Government initiated a process to actively locate children who informally left armed groups and offer them the necessary protection and the same benefits as offered to those demobilized under the Justice and Peace Law (Law 975). Further, a victims law, which, inter alia, provides for the protection of children and adolescents, is under consideration by Parliament. Although progress has been made by the Government of Colombia, combating impunity for these serious violations remains a challenge of paramount importance.

Widespread and systematic recruitment and use of children by armed groups in Colombia continued during the reporting period. Although the actual scale and scope of this violation remains unknown, in 2010, the country task force on monitoring and reporting received information on child recruitment from 19 of the 32 departments in Colombia. In addition, the early warning system established by the Ombudsman, which monitors and flags imminent risks of violations of human rights against civilian populations, including children, identified 43 risk situations in 19 departments, including risks related to child recruitment.

FARC-EP and ELN continued to recruit and use children, including for direct participation in hostilities against Government forces. In February, FARC-EP convened a community meeting in Antioquia to obtain a headcount of children in a rural area of the department. It also announced that children above the age of 8 would be recruited. In one characteristic use of children, a child was used by FARC-EP to carry out an attack against a police station using explosives. The explosives were attached to the child and activated as he approached the police station, killing him instantly.

Further, according to the Ombudsman office, during 2010, the armed groups Águilas Negras, Ejército revolucionario popular anticomunista de Colombia, Los Rastrojos, Los Paisas and Los Urabeños continued recruiting and using children. The Ombudsman office also detected situations where children were used for intelligence purposes and sexual exploitation in Córdoba and Chocó. These groups, which emerged after the demobilization of the paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, do not possess a homogenous motivation, structure and modus operandi. While many are dedicated to common criminal activities, others operate in a manner similar to that of the former paramilitary organizations. Some of the groups have a military structure and chain of command and are capable of exercising territorial control and sustaining military-type operations. Some of these groups have demonstrated their capacity to mutate and, in some instances, to operate jointly. The Government considers all these groups to be criminal gangs.

The national armed forces continued to use children for intelligence purposes, in violation of the Code on Children and Adolescents (Law No. 1098) and directives by the Ministry of National Defence. In some instances, children who were separated from armed groups were questioned by members of the security forces to gather intelligence on the armed group they belonged to. Some of those children were held for extended periods in the custody of military forces, longer than permitted by law, instead of being handed over to child protection actors. Between May and June, in Valle del Cauca, members of the Marines sought information about the guerrillas by involving children in the region. In August, in Chocó, national army personnel allegedly questioned four children between the ages of 13 and 16 who had demobilized from ELN to obtain military intelligence. The national armed forces continued to use children in civil-military activities. For instance, in September, children in an indigenous reserve in Valle del Cauca participated in civil-military activities and interacted with the soldiers of the Psychological Operations Task Force. Such activities, when undertaken in conflict-affected areas, may put children at risk and expose them to retaliation by members of armed groups.

Children were victims of indiscriminate attacks carried out by armed groups, or as a result of being caught in the crossfire between illegal armed groups or between armed groups and national security forces in 2010. The deaths of children in combat were also reported. Further, according to official sources, 2 girls and 16 boys were injured by landmines between January and November 2010. The country task force on monitoring and reporting verified that 11 children were killed or injured during the same period in Arauca and Antioquia departments alone.

During the year, there were massacres and killings, including of children by armed groups considered by the Government to be criminal gangs. Between January and November, 10 massacres were reported in Córdoba. Among the victims, nine were children between the ages of 13 and 17. These cases were attributed to members of Los Rastrojos and other groups. Los Rastrojos is also responsible for killing two boys and a girl in April 2010 in Córdoba department, and for killing a five-member family in Cauca department, including two children aged 2 and 8, in the same month. Such violence has resulted in the forced displacement of populations, including women and children.

Cases of extrajudicial executions involving children persisted in 2010 despite the Government’s zero tolerance policy for human rights violations and measures introduced by the Ministry of Defence. As for cases of enforced disappearances of children during armed conflict, it has not been possible to determine the total number to date, as official figures on missing persons are not disaggregated by age of the victims.

Of particular concern is the commission by the armed groups of grave forms of sexual violence against recruited girls. This phenomenon remains vastly underreported and unnoticed. Girls who are recruited or associated with armed groups are required to have sexual relations with adults at an early age and are forced to abort if they become pregnant. They are also forced to use methods of contraception that are often inadequate and harmful to their health. Separately, according to the Inter-institutional Committee for Justice and Peace, 677 cases of gender-based violence by former members of Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, including against children, were documented between 2006 and December 2010 within the framework of the Justice and Peace Law. However, no progress has been made in following up investigations and convictions.

Reports have also been received concerning cases of rape and other sexual violence cases against children involving members of the armed forces. All the victims were girls, including as young as 2 years old. However, difficulties persisted in obtaining information on sexual violence against children, as many victims failed to report abuses owing to fear of reprisals by perpetrators or of re-victimization. A lack of adequate institutional response, lack of confidence in the administration of justice and lack of information on care and complaint procedures also contributed to the paucity of information on cases.

Serious concerns continued over the occupation of schools by the national security forces in the departments of Antioquia, Arauca, Cauca, Cordoba, and Norte de Santander. The presence of national security forces in or near schools increased the risks of schools being attacked by armed groups, placing the lives of children and teachers in danger.

The armed groups have also been reported to occupy schools. Schools were damaged as a result of hostilities and anti-personnel mines and explosive devices planted by FARC. In addition, schools and students were targeted by armed groups for recruitment and use in the conflict.

According to the country task force on monitoring and reporting, restrictions on humanitarian access owing to actions of parties to the conflict had seriously jeopardized the delivery of humanitarian assistance, affecting children in particular. The movement of populations in several areas was severely restricted owing to armed confrontations between armed groups and the national armed forces and the establishment of their checkpoints, thus limiting their access to essential food items, health care, education and other basic services. Access of humanitarian actors to those populations was also severely hampered. Areas particularly affected included the departments of Antioquia, Arauca, Cauca, Caquetá, Guaviare, Huila, Meta Córdoba, Nariño and Norte de Santander.

Information on progress made by parties to conflict on dialogue and action plans to halt the recruitment and use of children, patterns of killing and maiming of children or rape and other forms of sexual violence against children in armed conflict

The Government voluntarily accepted the monitoring and reportingmechanism pursuant to Security Council resolution 1612 (2005) on the condition that any dialogue between the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, the United Nations country team or the country task force on monitoring and reporting and illegal armed groups may be possible only with the previous and explicit consent of the Government of Colombia. There was no contact or dialogue between the United Nations system and armed groups on the preparation and implementation of action plans to address grave violations against children, delaying progress in the implementation of Security Council resolutions 1612 (2005) and 1882 (2009). Upon inauguration and later in 2010, President Santos indicated that a Government precondition to starting peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) included a halt to recruitment and the release of children remaining in the guerrillas’ ranks.

Information on progress made in the release of children from armed forces and armed groups

According to the Colombian Family Welfare Institute, 338 children (114 girls and 224 boys) have been separated from illegal armed groups between January and December 2010 and entered protection programmes. Of these, 246 were separated from FARC-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP), 62 from the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN), 1 from the Ejército Popular de Liberación (EPL), 8 from the former Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) and 21 from other armed groups the Government deems criminal gangs.

Parties that recruit and use children.

  1. Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) *
  2. Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) *

* Parties that recruit and use children. * 

UN documents on Children and Armed Conflict in Colombia:




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