Forced Recruitment of Children in Colombia

Information from the Civil Society Organisation Humanidad Vigente. For information in Spanish please see here

According to the ‘Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding the Participation of Children in Armed Conflicts’, which Colombia has signed and enacted into law, armed groups including State armed forces must not under any circumstances recruit or use minors under 18 years of age in hostilities.

This optional Protocol came into force in Colombia on 25 June 2005. Despite the State’s duty to comply, a worrying situation persists in the country regarding forced recruitment and use of children and young people by armed actors.

According to the Single Registry of Victims (RUV), between 1985 and 31 December 2023, 9,707 children under 18 years of age were victims of this practice, of which 65.56% are men, 34.23 % are women and 0.20% declared having a diverse sexual orientation and gender identity. Of these children 1,763 children who were victims of forced recruitment belonged to ethnic communities, mostly indigenous communities (59%).

According to Humanidad Vigente between January and October 2023[i], there were 178 cases of children having been victims of forced recruitment. Most of these cases occurred in Indigenous communities, rural areas, and in the departments of Cauca, Amazonas, Antioquia, Arauca, Meta and Nariño – territories that have been historically affected by the armed conflict.

Children are forcibly recruited and used for the purposes of war without being officially incorporated into the armed group. They are subject to a number of activities including extortion and transporting substances or weapons. Children have also been used in other activities that expose them to very high risks, such as civil-military actions or military actions against the Colombian State Security Forces. The Constitutional Court has ratified the suspension of these activities, ordering the Army and the National Police to refrain from carrying them out with minors under 15 years of age.[ii] In addition, the Court ordered State forces to redesign plans and programs associated with these activities in order to protect the life and dignity of the population. Being involved in activities in areas of conflict with the Security Forces puts the population at risk of being attacked.

Condemning the continued recruitment and use of children, including children from indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities and refugee and migrant children, noting that nearly all cases were attributed to armed groups, and noting that children were used in combat, as well as in support roles such as informants, porters and in connection with illicit trafficking, as well as for sexual purposes, urging all parties to end and prevent further recruitment and use of children and immediately release without preconditions all children present in their ranks, and noting with concern that the recruitment and use of children has often led to other violations and abuses, including killing and maiming, sexual violence and abduction”. UN Security Council, Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, 2022

Humanidad Vigente called on the Colombian State to not only implement prevention policies, but also to deepen the development of effective, coordinated actions that, from a social and political commitment of all parties, would address this situation at territorial level in a differentiated manner, in order to guarantee the fundamental rights of children and young people, and build safe and just environments for them to grow and flourish.

[i] Humanidad Vigente contrasted the data from the Single Registry of Victims with information compiled in the ‘Monitoring of effects on children’ database and has shown that ethnic communities, particularly indigenous ones, are the most affected by this crime.

[ii] La revisión de la Constitucional Corte T-005-24 que concede el amparo a los derechos fundamentales a la vida, la integridad y la prohibición de participación de niñas y niños en acciones cívico-militares “actividades de acción integral” en zonas de conflicto armado.