Continuing presence of Colombian child soldiers sparks appeal by UN agency

18 October 2006

Alarmed by the lack of progress in demobilizing Colombia’s child soldiers and the rising number of accidents there involving landmines, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) appealed today for more than $2.5 million to carry out its work in the South American country.

Estimates indicate that between 2.5 million and 3.5 million people, more than half of them children, are displaced because of the decades-long conflict between Government forces, left-wing rebels and right-wing paramilitary groups, according to the latest donor update from UNICEF.

The agency said some 6,000 children still serve as soldiers in armed groups, with a similar number belonging to urban militias. There has been relatively little recent progress in demobilizing child soldiers – 853 children have been demobilized since the start of last year – and numerous other minors continue to be recruited.

Landmines are also present in 31 of Colombia’s 32 provinces, and the number of accidents involving mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) has surged since 1990.

“There is no comprehensive demining programme under way in Colombia,” the donor update stated, noting that more than one out of every three casualties from a mine or UXO accident is a civilian.

The donor update also voiced concern at Colombia’s murder rate; while it has declined since 2003, last year there was a rate of 42 homicides for every 100,000 people, one of the highest in the world.

“The level of violence, both related and unrelated to the armed conflict, continues to be very high in the country and is having a tremendous impact on society and childhood, and poses serious obstacles to humanitarian operations,” UNICEF’s update added.

Military blockades, other security situations and lack of roads means UNICEF and other UN humanitarian agencies also have difficulty reaching Colombia’s internally displaced persons (IDPs), the agency said. As many as four out of every 10 IDPs are children.


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