Football for Peace

Preventing Child Recruitment through football in rural Chocó

by Pamela Ferreira-Pinilla

A new project between Children Change Colombia and ACADESAN aims to prevent child recruitment through football in rural Chocó.

Tragically, the escalation of violence has been so intense in some regions of Colombia that children and young people have seen suicide as an alternative to avoid being victims of forced recruitment and other illicit activities such as child labour and illegal mining, as the President of the Colombian Episcopal Conference, Monsignor Luis José Rueda Aparicio, recently confirmed to the Special Jurisdiction of Peace.

In 2016, the Colombian government signed a Peace Agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas (FARC) aimed at ending the armed conflict, which Colombia had suffered for over fifty years. However, violence continues to be very pronounced in territories where there is still a lack of State presence and where armed actors – such as the National Liberation Army (ELN), the FARC dissidents, and the self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AGC) – are still fighting for the control of the territory. This further impacts child recruitment in regions that have increased armed control.

Chocó has been particularly affected by the armed conflict and child recruitment

Against this backdrop, Chocó, a region of Colombia that has historically been inhabited by Afro-descendant and Indigenous communities, has been disproportionately affected by forced displacement, loss of territory dispossession and, in general, systematic violations of the human rights of these communities.

According to reports from the Colombian Ministry of the Interior, the department of Chocó began to be affected by armed actors from the mid-1970s, becoming a strategic location for guerrilla groups. Moreover, at the end of the 1990s, the armed conflict worsened in this area with the paramilitary invasion, affecting the lives of civilians and violating the rights of the Afro-Colombians and Indigenous people of the area.

In 2017, according to the National Information Network of the Victims Unit, a total of 452,012 victims of the armed conflict were reported in the department of Chocó, this being more than 88% of the total population of the department. In addition, the Victims Unit reports that in the municipality of Litoral del San Juan, 18,904 people were victims of the armed conflict between 1985 to January 2018.

According to Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report, the department of Chocó has been one of the most affected by forced displacement product of the armed conflict, and equally, it is one of the most affected regions from multidimensional poverty, where 72% of the population is poor in Chocó and 81% of households do not have sewage service

Since the signing of the peace agreement, sadly, violence has increased in Chocó, and children have been largely impacted. Valeria Murillo, a ten-year old girl with dreams of being a dance teacher, who was part of our project in 2019 with ACADESAN (San Juan Community Council) was tragically killed by a stray bullet of an armed group in Bajo San Juan (Chocó) on January 15, 2022.

How are Children Change Colombia working to prevent child recruitment?

Children Change Colombia, with the support of our partner ACADESAN and the educational sector from the San Juan River region, seeks to generate strategies to prevent the risk of recruiting minors into armed groups and to provide them with safe spaces that guarantee their rights to access to education, culture, and recreational activities contained in the Political Constitution of 1991.

Through alliances with 10 educational centres near the San Juan River, the aim is to consolidate 144 football teams, both for girls and boys. Sport not only allows young people to connect with their peers and community and give them a sense of belonging to their territory and ancestral background, but it also helps children develop skills in critical thinking, empathy and managing emotions. Above all, it provides safe spaces where children can simply be children, keeping them out of reach of armed gangs in their neighbourhood.

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