As war rages on in Colombia, children continue to be at high risk of recruitment. Young people from abusive or impoverished households are lured into joining armed groups in hopes of a better life.
Child soldiers are often victims of physical, psychological, emotional and sexual violence. Many grow up knowing nothing but a life of combat. Some manage to escape. For most, the trauma inhibits their ability to develop as healthy members of society.
Stella Duque Cuesta is a clinical psychologist and director of MADRE’s partner Taller de Vida. She recently visited New York for an event to present findings from a report called “Stop Hunting Children!” The report documents acts of sexual violence committed against children in the armed conflict. The event was organized by WATCHLIST and COALICO.
Researchers for the report used 15 government databases of registered survivors aged 12 to 18. One key finding indicates that, from 2008 to 2012, approximately 48,915 cases of sexual violence occurred in the context of the conflict. Out the total cases registered, 41,313 of the survivors are Afro-Colombian and Indigenous girls.
This data is incomplete data and sexual violence is often widely under-reported. There are likely thousands of children who were victimized but scared into silence.
Several civil society organizations in Colombia coordinated the report. This included Taller de Vida’s “Saquen mi cuerpo de la guerra (“Take my body out of the war”) campaign. This initiative uses art therapy to help children harmed by the conflict to overcome their trauma. Overcoming the stigma of sexual violence, the youth also organize community exhibits of their work.
Stella explained, “The girls and young women involved in the armed conflict want to participate in the transitional justice process, because they do not want other girls to suffer the same [trauma that they experienced].”
The campaign’s goal is to bring local and international attention to the issue of sexual violence against children.
They also want the Colombian government to be held accountable and forced to take action.
“We must demand zero tolerance of sexual violence by armed actors, and we must build the political will of civil society to end this practice,” said Stella.