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Colombia: Red Hand Day, education is protection
12 February 2016

The JRS home visits team in Cúcuta, Colombia accompanies internally displaced persons. Over six million people are internally displaced in Colombia as a result of 50 years of war (Peter Balleis SJ / Jesuit Refugee Service).
Many children and adolescents, especially in rural areas, face several barriers to enrolling in and attending school, which increases their risk of being recruited by armed groups.

Cúcuta, Colombia, 12 February 2016 – In Colombia, children and adolescents are at risk of armed recruitment; for those who have been forcibly displaced, this risk is compounded. Education protects children from the risk of recruitment, providing children and adolescents with not only a safe space to stay, but opportunities and alternatives for their future.* 

Over the past 50 years, more than seven million victims have been forcibly displaced by the war in Colombia, 6,419,362 of whom have been victims of internal displacement. In addition to internally displaced persons, the war has driven between 500,000 and one million people out of the country.

The peace process between the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia –People's Army, or the FARC-EP, will hopefully help reduce the levels of recruitment and involvement of children and adolescents in armed conflict. However, JRS is especially concerned that the armed groups are far from being actually dissolved and will possibly increase their activities after being "demobilised," instead coming together under a different name in the post-accord state. 

The presence of very small and focused armed groups which help finance bigger organisations, such as gangs and other criminal groups in cities, is becoming more and more prevalent. The methods these groups commonly use to equip themselves – eg. the extortion and recruitment of children, adolescents and young people – will likely be increasingly used as the conflicts over territory become more violent.

In particular, as groups need new members to replace those who have perished during clashes, they often turn to children and adolescents. This was sadly the case in Valle del Cauca and Norte de Santander, which affected not only those in rural areas, but largely those in urban areas as well. 

In addition to direct involvement in armed groups, children and adolescents have faced other exploitation at the hands of other unarmed criminal groups. Such activities include gaining information, assassination, transporting weapons and sexual exploitation. 

This case from the JRS Colombia Prevention Department team in Norte de Santander illustrates the risks adolescents are facing:

"A paramilitary group which exercises control in the city of Cúcuta threatened two young people, 14 and 16 years old, as well as their immediate family, on several occasions. Their testimonies express that they did not want to continue 'collaborating' with the armed group, passing weapons from one neighbourhood to another and facilitating the involvement of young girls in their struggles for territorial control.

Because of this, the young people could not return to school and were hidden in different places to protect their lives. This family was forcibly displaced by armed conflict. One of the family members disappeared at the hands of paramilitary groups. They turned to the JRS office in Cúcuta which helped move the adolescents to safety in another city".

JRS Colombia tries to spread awareness of this threat to children and young people through dialogue with Colombian diplomatic missions within the Security Council, especially those in Bogotá. We encourage the international community to remain attentive to the new and existing risks children and adolescents face, which will continue even in a post-conflict phase. 

Furthermore, many children and adolescents, especially in rural areas, face several barriers to enrolling in and attending school, which increases the risk their being recruited by armed groups. JRS has continually called for public institutions to provide children with access to basic education and necessary educational resources to decrease this risk. 

We believe it is necessary to put in place the proper means to reduce the risk of recruitment, such as strengthening of the national protection system, especially through education. To ensure children and adolescents remain protected, JRS calls for the state to:

  • increase access to schools, especially in rural areas;
  • provide adolescents with job-training programmes to secure them a better future through access to the labour market;
  • invest in the protection of schools so that they do not become spaces of risk; and
  • strengthen security measures nationwide, especially in territories where armed groups are present. 

*The JRS Mercy in Motion 2016 campaign seeks to provide protection by increasing the number of refugee children and youth who receive education by 100,000 by the year 2020.



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