Outlook for demobilisation and reintegration of former child soldiers in Colombia
Report from our Colombia-based Project Officers.
Without doubt, the peace agreement with the FARC was a sign of hope for thousands of children and young people who have been recruited or are at risk of recruitment into Colombia's armed conflict. The agreement signifies the end of the aggression and control over communities exerted by the FARC, a group whose use of child soldiers has been well-documented. It presents a new opportunity for children and young people to experience peace for the first time, to enjoy their childhood and explore and develop their interests.
However, during the peace negotiations very little information about the demobilisation of child soldiers was communicated to the Colombian public. Now, as the FARC have begun their formal demobilisation process, it is still not known how many children are in FARC's ranks as the group has not disclosed exact numbers. Estimates range from tens to thousands. As a result, the number requiring State protection is unknown.
There is also confusion around the government's plans to protect and reintegrate children demobilised from the FARC. In the little information that has been made public, there has been no mention of the role of the ICBF (Colombian Social Services), the body which coordinates the current reintegration programme for ex-child soldiers under the age of 18, leaving doubts around the type of support they will receive, when they will begin to receive it, where and for how long. Question marks also remain around the issue of children born into the guerrilla group. As yet it is unclear what plans the government has put in place to ensure these children's safety as their parents go through demobilisation.
Our partner organisations CRAN, Casa Amazonia, Circulo de Estudios and Fundescodes work with children who are direct victims of Colombia's conflict, whether forcibly recruited by armed groups, or victims of violence perpetrated by them. Their experiences in Bogotá, Putumayo, Quibdó and Buenaventura have clearly shown that the successful reintegration of ex-child soldiers or gang members requires a multi-sided approach. The situation is complex - many of these regions have directly suffered violence by armed groups and communities fear the presence of children who have been members of such groups. Therefore, strengthening families' and the wider communities' knowledge of children's rights, combating misinformation about the peace process with unbiased education, providing them with psychological support to overcome the trauma of conflict, and supporting them to create and sustain nurturing, stigma-free environments must go hand in hand with providing psychosocial support and education to the children themselves.
As the Colombian government clarifies its plans, civil society organisations such as our partners are continuing their work at community-level to support the reintegration of demobilised children – whether they left an armed group some years ago or only recently. Our partners tell us that they are encouraged by the openness of the families and communities they work with to overcome stigma and learn to welcome these children, value them and support them through the difficult reintegration process they face.
Thank you for your interest in our work. To donate to help us provide support and opportunities to children who have experienced Colombia's conflict first-hand, click here.