Why do Colombia’s Children Need Support? Poverty, Inequality and Violence in Colombia

Poverty and inequality in Colombia

Millions of Colombians are still desperately poor. The Covid-19 crisis had a devastating effect on the Colombian economy, undoing over a decade of gradual progress in reducing poverty. 

  • Poverty: According to the a report from Colombia’s Office of National Statistics, 39.3% of Colombia’s population live in poverty, rising to 44.6% in rural areas.
  • Extreme Poverty: The report also found that 12.2%, nearly 5 million people, live in extreme poverty, lacking even the essentials of life
  • Inequality: In 2021, Colombia was found to be the most unequal country in Latin America (based on income distribution).

While Colombia’s poverty rate is troublingly high, poverty is even higher among certain groups and regions. It is estimated that over 80% of Colombia’s millions of displaced people live in poverty. Afro-Colombian and indigenous people, women, people with disabilities and young people who have been in care are also disproportionately likely to be affected by poverty.

Violence and conflict in Colombia

The Colombian conflict has led to the displacement of over 8.2 million Colombians within the last 50 years and has claimed the lives of 200,000 people, leaving an unknown number of people ‘disappeared’ (estimates are between 80,000 to 120,000). A peace deal was signed in 2016 to end 52 years of armed conflict between the Colombian government and the country’s largest guerrilla group, the FARC. This presented great opportunities to construct a more peaceful society for all. However, as important as it is, the deal alone has not been able to solve all the problems that Colombia faces. Talks between the Colombian government and the left-wing ELN rebel group have resumed in 2022 but there is not still a ceasefire. Additionally, various illegal armed groups continue to operate in Colombia and many neighbourhoods are controlled by armed groups and gangs, including former paramilitaries. Murder, extortion, sexual violence and other human rights abuses by these groups continue to drive large numbers of people from their homes. 

Due to the conflict, the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Colombia has now reached over 8.2 million, second only to Syria.

What does poverty, inequality and violence mean for children in Colombia?

The effects of all of this on children are multiple and serious. 

The children who Children Change Colombia work with live in sprawling urban slums or rural areas where they have limited access to basic services such as water, electricity, health care and education. 

Violence and insecurity is pervasive in their neighbourhoods, children are at high risk of recruitment into armed groups, and there are often ‘invisible borders’ controlled by rival gangs, which children can’t cross without risking their lives. Witnessing and experiencing violence of different kinds often leaves children traumatised.

In this environment it is very difficult for children to enjoy a safe and happy childhood free from poverty, violence or exploitation. This is what all of our partners seek to address, so that the children that we work with can properly take advantage of opportunities to build safer lives for themselves, their families, and their communities. 

Statistics on the Colombian conflict: 
  • Between 2020 and 2021, there was an astounding 88% increase (from 12,481 to 23,465) in the number children and young people affected by the conflict, including displacement, recruitment, abuse, and sexual violence.
  • From 1958 to 2020, more than 17,860 Children and Young People (CYP) were recruited by armed groups (Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica, “A war with no age” Report, February 2021)
  • According to a report from the Truth Comission, from 1990 to 2018, 6,492 children were kidnapped.

Education in Colombia

Education statistics in rural Colombia

We focus on improving education in rural parts of Colombia where education is levels are much lower than in cities. 

  • In 2021, 76% of students in education were located in urban areas compared with 24% in rural areas (DANE, 2021).  
  • In La Guajira, only 29 out of every 100 students finish secondary school and only 5 out of 100 go on to university (DANE, 2019).
  • In 2020 68% of young people aged between 17 and 20 in rural areas dropped out of school (DANE, 2020).
  • 8 out of 10 educational institutions in the Carribbean region are in areas with the lowest educational performance (ICFES).

Access to education is difficult as children in rural areas have to walk long distances to school every day

  • According to the DANE quality of life report, 61% of school children walk to school), a figure that continues to increase year after year, since in 2020 it was 58% and in 2019 it was 51%.
  • The percentage of higher education institutions in Colombia in 2020 was 52%, which represents 23.5 percentage points below the average for OECD economies, which is 75%. 

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