Colombia: Minors caught up in conflict
Young people who have few years of school behind them and meagre job opportunities, or who have been separated from their families, are more vulnerable to the effects of conflict and violence. In addition to the worrying problem of the recruitment of minors, the use of youngsters as informers is also a particular cause for concern.
Children and teenagers are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of armed conflict and other forms of violence. They are often direct victims of violations of their rights, in cases of forced recruitment, for example, and this constantly exposes them to the dangers of armed conflict, sexual violence and threats. They also suffer indirect consequences, such as poor access to education and opportunities. Young people who have few years of school behind them and meagre job opportunities, or who have been separated from their families because of the war, are more likely to become victims.
Under international humanitarian law, children are entitled to special protection. In addition to the general protection they enjoy as civilians, they are also protected by specific provisions which take into account their special vulnerability, including preservation of the cultural environment and education, maintaining family links, health care and nutrition. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict establishes eighteen as the minimum age for compulsory recruitment and requires States to take all feasible measures to prevent children under this age from becoming involved in hostilities.
Another problem that concerns the ICRC is the use of school facilities by the parties to the conflict. Schools are often occupied or damaged during the fighting. When this happens, young people are unable to continue their studies, and this further increases their vulnerability. Teachers are often threatened and so are afraid to stay in schools in conflict areas, complicating the situation still further.
In Colombia, the forced recruitment of minors to take part in armed conflict and other forms of violence is not the only concern. There are also lesser-known practices that cause concern, icluding the use of children as informers or guides by the parties to the conflict, putting them in great danger. There are also cases in which members of a party to the conflict have struck up a romantic relationship with minors in conflict areas, putting them at risk from the other side.
The ICRC’s humanitarian response
The ICRC maintains a confidential dialogue with the parties to the conflict and discusses the specific needs and vulnerability of minors. It is also in permanent contact with the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF). The ICRC has had an agreement with this institution since 1996, permitting it to visit the minors in its facilities.
In 33 cases of minors leaving armed groups in 2012, the ICRC was asked to help put them back in touch with their families. As a result of the ICRC’s efforts, 25 minors were reunited with their families.
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