Colombia: Protecting Children of War

The Problem © MADRE

Thousands of children, some as young as eight years old, are being used as soldiers in Colombia's armed conflict. In a war that pits the government and right-wing paramilitary groups against anti-government guerillas, all sides exploit children to advance their combat goals.

For many children from poor families, joining an armed group is the only way to get a meal each day. Some “street children” are bribed with promises of money and adventure. Others are taken from their families as a "tax" levied by arms groups. These children are forced to kill. Many are sexually abused for years.

Once the children are recruited as soldiers, the armed groups become the only family they know. As they grow up, child soldiers tend to cling to a life of combat, perpetuating a war that has already lasted more than 40 years.

The Solution

MADRE provides critical services for children who are at high-risk for being recruited as child-soldiers, giving them the social and psychological support they need to create alternatives to a life of combat and violence.

Through our local partner, Taller de Vida, MADRE provides trauma counseling, art therapy, and recreational programs to young people in Bogota who have been uprooted from their homes by war and poverty. With training from MADRE, Indigenous and Afro-Colombian youth are learning videography in order to document and heal from their experiences of war and displacement.

The Results

  • Instead of being forced to kill, the youth of Taller de Vida spend their afternoons engaged in academic tutoring, sports, arts, theater, and trauma counseling programs.
  • Indigenous and Afro-Colombian youth who have been displaced by war and poverty are healing from the traumas they have endured.
  • Youth are developing their self-expression and their talents in the arts, and working together to envision and create a culture of peace.

"The paramilitaries kidnapped me and made me fight. I thought I would never escape. But I did. And my new friends at Taller de Vida like me and they help me."
- Tania, a former child soldier