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What is the role of children and young people in the peace building process in Colombia?

Here’s what some young people themselves have to say.

Young people are the ones who will have to make peace work in Colombia, now and in the future, so the barriers that stop them achieving their goals must be taken down. They need to be included in the decision-making processes in their communities, such as building and construction plans. Governments must invest in activities and safe spaces for children to productively use their free time, and provide opportunities for children to fully exercise their citizenship rights in their communities.

These are just some of the conclusions that came from a recent panel discussion Children Change Colombia organised in Bogota. Three youth leaders from our partner projects proposed questions to Humberto De La Calle – the chief negotiator in the recent peace process with the FARC. All three youth leaders spoke with confidence, unfazed the 200+ people in the audience, or by Humberto de La Calle sitting beside them taking notes.

The first to speak was Nicole Caicedo from Fundacion Fundescodes in Buenaventura. At just 14, Nicole has already established herself as a key figure in defending children’s rights and advocating for young people’s participation in the peace process. Nicole demanded that children’s voices be heard and their opinions taken into account. ”In Buenaventura children are not included in politics. We want to contribute to the peace process but we don’t have the opportunity.”

Nicole then passed the microphone to Yamile Angulo from Casa Amazonia in Putumayo, who received spontaneous applause from the audience for several hard hitting questions to Humberto De La Calle, such as “If Putumayo is so rich in resources, why do we not have water, electricity and other basic services?” She spoke of the basic services that her region lacks, including running water, electricity and quality education. “We need access to good education and safe spaces free from violence to go to in our free time…instead of going to school, young people prefer to earn 30,000 pesos a day harvesting coca leaves. 83% of farmers in Putumayo don’t go to school, and the truth is, young people want to do more with their lives than pick coca leaves.”

Finally, it was Diego Rozo’s turn to speak, a youth leader from Fundacion Si Mujer in Cali. Diego focused on sexual violence in Colombia and the issue of gender inequality, huge problems which lead to violation of young people’s sexual and reproductive rights, and must be addressed. Peace, he says, will not work while inequality exists. “They say that young people are the future for Colombia but they don’t include us in decision making processes. Even in our homes, we still encourage girls to stay at home and concentrate on cooking and looking after the house whereas boys are encouraged to go outside and play sports and do activities that are more ‘masculine’. There is a big problem with gender inequality in our country and it is something we must be taught in school.”

At Children Change Colombia, we believe that children and young people are the engine that will drive sustainable peace in Colombia. As Yamile put it, so perfectly “Children and young people are the voice of peace.” Let’s listen to them.

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