Colombian children still missing out on school despite peace talks

A World At School, March 21, 2016

Thousands of children in Colombia are dropping out of school because their families have fled from the affects of Latin America’s longest-running conflict.

Many are also missing out on education because of the threat of sexual violence, recruitment into armed groups or landmines.

The bleak picture is revealed in a report by the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF. Roberto De Bernardi, its representative in the country, said: “No child in Colombia today knows what it is like to live in a country at peace. It is time to turn the page.”

More than 250,000 children have been affected by the conflict since peace talks between the government and the main armed opposition group FARC-EP started three years ago.

They are among more than 80 million children around the world whose education has been disrupted by emergencies, including conflicts and natural disasters.

You can send a message to leaders meeting at the first ever World Humanitarian Summit in May – ensuring they commit to set up a new platform to fund education in emergencies.

Theirworld – the children’s charity behind A World at School – has launched the #SafeSchools campaign to keep up public pressure. Please sign the #SafeSchools petition.

UNICEF said although the situation in Colombia had improved, children continue to be victims of the conflict. The horrific statistics over the past three years include:

  • More than 230,000 children forcibly displaced from their homes
  • 65 schools damaged by fighting or used for military purposes
  • At least 10 teachers killed
  • Nearly 130 children killed or injured by landmines and unexploded bombs
  • At least 75 children killed and 180 injured in other conflict-related violence
  • 1000 children used or recruited by illegal armed groups, including FARC
  • More than 180 children, mostly girls, victims of sexual violence at the hands of warring factions

Children living in conflict areas account for 40% of all children of primary and lower secondary age who are not in school, according to the UNICEF report Childhood in the Time of War. Latest data from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics says there are more than 105,000 primary-age children who are not in school

Of the children recruited to join armed groups and militias, girls make up a significant proportion. One of them is Angelina (not her real name), a 23-year-old who told her story to UNICEF.

She said: “I first ran away from home when I was 12. When I was 15 I got pregnant. Having a baby is a big responsibility. I didn’t know what to do.

“When I joined (the armed group), my daughter was still a baby. The first time I was in a battle I was very scared because I didn’t know how to handle a gun.”

The report adds: “Children’s participation in civic military activities, such as parades, and school study visits to military bases can expose them to the risk of military attack and retaliation by members of non-state armed groups.”

It said death threats and killings had resulted in teacher shortages in the worst-affected areas.

Colombia has suffered more than 50 years of war. Government figures show almost 45,000 children have been killed and 8000 have disappeared since 1985.

Mr de Barnardi said: “Even if the peace agreement were to be signed tomorrow, children will continue to be at risk of all kinds of violations including recruitment, landmines and sexual exploitation.

“Unless these children receive the material and psychological assistance they need, the prospects of long-lasting peace will remain elusive.”

Read the full UNICEF report.