The rights of internally displaced children
The population group that has been the most affected by forced displacement in Colombia are children between 5 and 14 years old.(1) Many displaced children are at risk of malnutrition, lack access to school and are forced to work to bring money home. Additionally, children have been forced to participate in the conflict. In the report on situation of human rights in Columbia in 2007, the High Commissioner for Human Rights notes that:
Minors – both boys and girls – find themselves in a particularly precarious situation when they are victims of displacement due to the armed conflict. Cases are still being recorded of boys and girls seriously harmed by anti-personnel mines, acts of sexual violence, indiscriminate attacks and terrorist activities.(2)
Guiding Principles provide that children are entitled to protection and assistance required by their specific condition and needs, which includes measures to enable them to pursue education and to prevent their recruitment into armed forces.
Guiding principle 4
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- Certain internally displaced persons, such as children, especially unaccompanied minors, expectant mothers, mothers with young children, female heads of household, persons with disabilities and elderly persons, shall be entitled to protection and assistance required by their condition and to treatment which takes into account their special needs”
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- In no circumstances shall displaced children be recruited nor be required or permitted to take part in hostilities.
- Internally displaced persons shall be protected against discriminatory practices of recruitment into any armed forces or groups as a result of their displacement. In particular to any cruel, inhuman or degrading practices that compel compliance or punish non-compliance with recruitment are prohibited in all circumstances.
- Every human being has the right to education.
- To give effect to this right for internally displaced persons, the authorities concerned shall ensure that such persons, in particular displaced children, receive education which shall be free and compulsory at the primary level. Education should respect their cultural identity, language and religion.
- Special efforts should be made to ensure the full and equal participation of women and girls in educational programmes.
- Education and training facilities shall be made available to internally displaced persons, in particular adolescents and women, whether or not living in camps, as soon as conditions permit.
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As a woman, it pains me that the children are with these different armed groups. You know that sooner or later something is going to happen to them and you feel for them. As a mother, you expect you children to be by your side, instead of leaving to be with these groups. As a mother, it pains you that something might happen to them.
When young people go to the cities, the army tries to take them by force because they don’t have their military service card. The different armed groups also try to get them. They have taken several kids; several kids have collaborated with them. (…)
The soldiers treat us badly, they think badly of us and insult us. They sometimes say our boys are guerrillas. That hurts us. It hurts me as a woman that they say these kinds of things of our sons; it hurts me as a woman that sometimes they tell the young women that they are collaborators of these people (the guerrillas)... Read moreSophia
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There they would spend their time playing football. They would be invited to the beach, and because they were good players, they would be sought out and taken to some hamlet or nearby town to play. So coming to Bogotá was a very difficult change for them, and for the littlest children, my grandchildren, it was very hard because they were taught to eat traditional food, which was el bollo with friche and they missed that (…).
My kids are now big, but raising my grandchildren here in Bogotá is very difficult because it isn’t the same atmosphere; they don’t have the same freedom that they had there. For example, on a Sunday they would go to the beach, they would go to the river, they would fish or go to a pasture and see the goats or go to a settlement where an uncle or some other family member lived and spend their Saturdays and Sundays there. Here it’s different, because if you don’t have a peso and you go out with your child, he immediately wants ice cream, chocolates, sweets. And, if you don’t have any money, how are you going to give him anything? It’s not that you don’t want to give it to him, it’s not that you’re selfish. It’s just that life here is very different from life there... Read moreBlanca
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One of the things that was toughest for me, really tough, that made me really sad was that since we'd arrived in Barranquilla, one of my children I'd taken with me, when he was 11 or 12, started behaving like a calf loose in the field. He started walking all over the place, and he'd come home late at night. As we lived in a shack he could get out and I had no way of controlling him and he was out in the street - it frightened me. I had to get up at 10 or 11 at night and look for him. I took him there, and enrolled him in fifth grade. But once he'd finished sixth grade he didn't carry on studying. He didn't want to continue going to his classes anymore, he said he wasn't going to do any more studying, that he was through with it. He became a real rebel... Read moreIsmael
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In Barranquilla the same thing happened. Everything I saw made me think of those people. Just the sight of a soldier had me running from the house. I've not been able to overcome it. They put me through some interviews, gave me psychologists, and I feel that I've changed a bit.
At school, I couldn't do it anymore. Whenever I spoke, it was about what happened to me. Before I'd been an excellent student and I stood out socially and in all the subjects, but after all that I changed a bit. Life wasn't the same for me anymore, I didn't enjoy running around, playing hide and seek like before. None of it - I just stayed at home. Before it all happened I never fought, but afterwards I fought with my sister, with everyone, I was rude to them. I was a responsible boy, I really enjoyed helping people - I still do - but my mum says I've changed a bit.
I still have nightmares about what happened. Sometimes the dreams come and suddenly I can't sleep anymore. I see those men talking, I see the shots being fired, I see the injured people. In my dreams I still see that man suffering, I still see him writhing on the ground and all that... Read moreSimón
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Then my mom said: “my child, they are going to amputate your leg,” I said “yes, mom.” Then when my mom had gone, I lifted up my head a little and like thirty doctors were there looking at my foot and they began to say: “we’ll have to start from here,” “no, from here”; They all began to put their hands on my leg where they thought the cut should be. So I said to myself: “Why so many doctors? It was only my foot. Why so many?... Read moreMileinis
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The impact of all those aggressions against us has been really tough. It was tough to get used to things that you weren’t brought up with, to see people murdered, to see things that you never imagined – much less as a child. It was tough to have to flee again, to see that we were missing people in the community, that everyone cried all the time, that we didn’t live as we had before. In truth, it’s been really hard. I can’t figure it out because it’s .. it’s the worst that can happen to a person, to a community!... Read moreJuan
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It made an enormous impression on me. So much so that it made me want to be a human rights defender. At that -- I was a child, an adolescent - it made such an impact. Although you think like a child or an adolescent, it hits you really hard, because you've never heard such explosions, the bursts of machine gun fire, the bombardments. It was all pretty scary ... the way the terror hits you: "You're leaving today!" or "You've got 12 hours to get out, or we kill you!" No matter how much of a child you are, you get scared when you see how they mistreat your siblings, uncles, family members, cousins, parents, how you parents feel mistreated, how they suffer... Read moreJames
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When one of them was 16, a group took him away. He was able to escape, come here, and denounce it. But he wasn’t given any help, because he was a minor, and we were badly off. So he turned around and left again for another part of the countryside. We don’t know where he is now. But we have been threatened, because he has been fingered.
As they didn’t give him any assistance, he left... Read moreLilia
(1) Comisión de Seguimiento a la Política Publica sobre el Desplazamiento Forzado
, January 2008
(2) Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Colombia, A/HRC/7/39, 29 February 2008, paragraph 73.
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