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: Corporación Proyectarte
Since 2010, "Corporación Proyectarte", an NGO based in Medellin, has used art to create processes of personal and social transformation, as a contribution to the construction of peace and individual and collective human development.
WAPA financially supports the art therapy program KUAKUMUN (the art of rebirth) developed by its local partner "Proyectarte" in two reintegration centres (CAPRE) in Cali and Medellin. 60 young people - girls and boys between the ages of 14 and 18 - who are welcomed in CAPRE receive school and vocational training. But it doesn't stop there.
More than just an art workshop
Thanks to our partner, they now have the chance to complete their educational and professional career with a training aimed at personal and collective transformation processes.
These sessions of music, dance, visual arts, theatre, embroidery, ... are more than just a distraction in their schedule. They help develop both personal and social skills:
- to get to know each other better,
- to regain self-confidence, to discover talents and to explore new prospects for a future without carrying weapons;
- to learn to control aggression, develop tolerance, patience and concentration;
- to heal their wounds and to move on, to learn to build instead to break down; to work in a team, to respect differences, to get in touch with others without rivalry;
- to combat their embarrassment;
- to become friends; …
These sessions are accompanied by outings and artistic events: presentation of artistic works to other young people, meetings with professional artists, visits of a museum, ... These exchanges are beneficial to them, make them proud of themselves and allow them to be no longer seen as former child soldiers.