What does the peace agreement with the FARC mean for Colombia’s children?
In February, after a peace agreement with the Colombian government, the FARC guerrillas began laying down their arms.
This is a hugely significant event for all Colombians, not least children, of whom 2.5 million have been officially recorded as victims of the armed conflict.
It means that many of the weapons that caused fear and suffering for children are disappearing from many communities. This is a great thing.
But does this mean that the work of Children Change Colombia is done? Unfortunately the answer is 'No'. The opportunities and risks that the peace agreement brings mean that our work is more important than ever. Below we explain why.
Children and young people must be helped to create peace, or it may fail
We believe that peace is more than just the absence of armed conflict.
Peace is a state in which the rights of everyone are protected, where all children have the opportunity to play and learn in safety and grow up with opportunities to make a fulfilling life for themselves. Peace must be created and actively maintained through measures to heal communities divided by conflict.
We believe that children and young people – particularly those who have experienced conflict and insecurity most directly – can and must play a central role in creating this peace.
If children and young people do not get the chance to play this role, there is a risk that the insecurity and hopelessness that fuels conflict will persist. This may mean that armed conflict never really goes away, but is only carried on by other groups, harming children in the same way.
This is why we must continue to create safe places where children, and the adults responsible for their protection, can be empowered to change their own lives and the lives of their communities.
FARC are not the only source of violence
Ending the conflict with the FARC is just one of many steps necessary to building lasting peace in Colombia. FARC is only one of many armed groups that threaten children. Beyond the conflict with the FARC, children are exposed to multiple forms of violence, abuse and social exclusion. We are working to protect children from these. We work with children who risk recruitment into other armed groups and who continue to live in a cycle of poverty and social exclusion, the very things that fuel conflict.
Power vacuums may be filled by others
FARC's demobilisation risks creating power vacuums into which other criminal groups can expand. It is urgent that we don't allow one threat to children to be replaced by another. We're working to build strong communities capable of rejecting violence and manipulation by armed actors, with the knowledge of how to demand that the State fulfils its protective role. We're also helping to strengthen local State institutions so that they have the capacity to fulfil this role.
Implementation of the agreement in itself generates risks
During the second half of 2016, as the peace deal with the FARC was being finalised and after it was signed, there was a significant increase in murders of community activists, indigenous leaders, land-rights campaigners, and human rights defenders. This volatile situation demonstrates that much work remains to be done by civil society to create safe, peaceful and protective communities. In this very difficult context, we will continue working with our partners to ensure their peacebuilding work does not put them and, importantly, the children and young people they work with, at risk.
Marginalised groups must be involved in creating peaceful communities
The peace agreement promises that long-marginalised groups – including women and girls, indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, and the LGBTI population – will be able to fully participate in democratic politics. We're working with these communities to build their capacity to do this.
Ex-child combatants need support
Children Change Colombia works with Fundación CRAN to effectively reintegrate children and young people who have been part of illegal armed groups (including FARC) into civilian life. It is impossible to know with certainty how many children and young people have been recruited into armed groups. As an indication of the extent of the problem, between 1999 and 2013 Colombian Social Services worked with 5,417 children and adolescents who had left illegal armed groups. As FARC demobilisation occurs, many child and adolescent ex-combatants will need specialist support.
You can also read this report and other recent updates in our Spring 2017 newsletter, here.