UN paints grim picture of child abuse in Colombian conflict

8 September 2009

Despite significant Government efforts, children in Colombia continue to be killed, maimed, tortured, raped, recruited and abducted in the long-running conflict, mainly by illegal armed groups, a new United Nations report warns, calling on all parties to abide by their international obligations.

“I am deeply concerned at the continued rape and other forms of sexual violence, in particular against girls, that is perpetrated mainly by illegal armed groups,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon writes in his latest report to the Security Council on children and armed conflict in Colombia, noting that child recruitment by these groups is widespread.

Girl members are required to have sexual relations with adults at an early age and forced to abort if they become pregnant, he adds.

He commends Government efforts to tackle such recruitment, but also calls on the authorities to ensure that the national army fully prohibits the use of children for military intelligence as well as the interrogation of those who have been separated from the illegal groups and involvement of children in civil-military activities that could put them at risk of retaliation by these groups.

Voicing “grave concern” at the extrajudicial execution of children, he urges the Government “as a matter of priority” to take measures to eliminate the practice.

The Government is also urged to enhance efforts “to combat impunity for grave violations committed against children.”

Estimates of the number of children participating in illegal armed groups range from 8,000 in Government figures to 11,000 estimated by non-government sources, according to the report, which covers 2008.

Enumerating reported killings of children by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP), which has been fighting national governments for more than 45 years, Mr. Ban cites the case of a 14-year-old girl murdered in Antioquia department allegedly because of her association with a member of the national armed forces.

“The girl was brutally tortured, with one of her hands cut off and one of her eyes gouged out before she was killed,” he writes.

Children have also been killed for refusing to join the groups. “In January 2008, FARC-EP attempted to recruit two brothers, aged 13 and 15, in the department of Putumayo,” Mr. Ban notes. “Upon their refusal to join the group, the guerrillas killed one boy by dousing him with gasoline and shooting him. The second boy was recruited against his will.”

Turning to extrajudicial killings, he cites figures from the Attorney-General’s office showing 51 child victims as of November 2008, and also mentions the case of 11 people, including a child who disappeared near Bogotá, the capital, and whose bodies were later displayed by the national army as members of illegal groups killed in combat in Norte de Santander department.

Mr. Ban notes that Colombia has the second largest population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world, with nearly 3 million being displaced between 1997 and the end of 2008, and more than 1 million of them children.

“Recognizing that the protection of children is best served by peace, all parties are called upon to strive for a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” he concludes, urging the international donor community to provide additional aid to programmes enhancing child protection.

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