The Colombian conflict, in a country with a problematic topography of mountains and jungles, is infinitely complex. From university professors to charity
leaders, via international cooperation agencies and human rights militants, we have heard the word “complejo – complicated” endlessly.
And this conflict is complicated, that’s the least we can say, in particular given its duration, over 50 years, and its source of funding: narcotics-trafficking and the large number of protagonists. Guerrillas from the FARC, EPL, ELN, M-19 (respectively: Marxists, Maoists, Guevarists and nationalists), indigenous guerrillas and those of African descent (who we never hear about) fight or have fought for reasons which have an ideological basis. Paramilitaries with their penchant for the extreme right united under the AUC banner (United Colombian Self-defence) and have now converted to BACRIM (meaning Bands of Emerging Criminals). They are keen to control the territories and specialise in drug-trafficking, prostitution and kidnapping, in particular.
Here in Colombia we don’t talk about civil war, but rather armed conflict. We thought we were arriving in a post-conflict country. That is not the case. Everyone agrees that whilst violence has abated, Colombia is “post-agreement” or in transition. In 2016, a peace treaty was finally signed between the government of Santos and the FARC (which transformed into the FARC political party), but clashes continue in certain regions between the governmental army and the ELN guerrillas, other paramilitary groups, the BACRIM and FARC dissidents.
The problem of child soldiers in Colombia
Virtually all of the armed groups have recruited children as soldiers, both in villages and in towns. Almost 18,000 have been recruited in total. With criminal gangs, we also see the notion of the criminalised child appearing (informants, drug dealers, or, even worse, sicarios – contract killers, etc.) who should also be treated as child soldiers. Their total number is unknown.
Children “joined” armed groups for various reasons: difficult economic conditions, domestic violence, a lack of opportunities, a desire for revenge, threats and forcible recruitment.
Among the roles are: domestic duties, messenger or informer, manufacturing, setting or detection of anti-personnel mines, guiding or security, sex slaves to military leaders and the recruitment of other children. Last of all they bear arms and are sent to the front where they carry out kidnappings.
In Colombia, the average age of a child soldier is estimated at 13 and 30% of these children are girls. 1 child in 6 is Afro-Colombian or indigenous*. Source: Unicef
The victims of the conflict
Like we said, Colombia is a country in transition. Until now, in 50 years, the conflict has claimed more than 260,000 lives (82% of which are civilians), 45,000 people have disappeared, almost 8 million internally displaced, thousands of child soldiers (almost 18,000), an incalculable number of war widows and orphans. It is also, the second most mined country in the world after Afghanistan.
But here in Colombia, we also talk about a silent conflict which is superimposed on the armed conflict: narcotics-trafficking which continues to threaten peace.
Our partner: Corporacion Proyectarte
Since 2010, Corporacion Proyectarte, an NGO based in Medéllin, has been creating personal and social transformation processes using art, to contribute to building peace and to individual and collective humanitarian development.
The association has developed several programmes which we support with enthusiasm and conviction:
1. “Kuakumun, the art of rebirth” project for psychosocial assistance through art intended for former child-soldiers (boys and girls) aged from 14 to 18. The project is underway in Medellín in the centre of the Ciudad Don Bosco and may be extended to Cali through WAPA.
2. “Believe and Create” project, humanitarian training through art for 400 children and young people in vulnerable situation (art, music, theatre). The project is underway in the areas of Medellín affected by poverty and violence.
3. “Art and Peace” project, humanitarian training through art for children, young people and mothers from the village and various hamlets of San Rafael, a village which has been particularly affected by the armed conflict.
4. “Cultivarte” project, humanitarian training through art and agro-ecology to a group of children, young people and families of farmers in a hamlet of San Rafael. These farmers have also been direct victims of the conflict, following which many of them had to abandon their land. They are currently in the phase of returning to their territory.