According to Colombia’s National Center for Historical Memory, 16,879 children were recruited and used by armed actors in Colombia between 1960 and 2015. Cases of recruitment and use of children have progressively gone down since the Government first entered into peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) in 2012 and with the subsequent signing of the peace agreement in 2016. However, several other armed groups, including the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN), the Ejército Popular de Liberación (EPL), post-demobilization armed groups (PDAGs), and FARC-EP dissidents, continue to actively recruit boys and girls as they seek to fill the security vacuum the FARC-EP has left. The situation has further deteriorated since the start of this year with the expiration of a ceasefire between the Government and the ELN and crumbling peace talks.

Watchlist first highlighted its concerns about the situation of children in Colombia with its 2004 Field Monitor report Colombia’s War on Children, followed by the 2012 publication of No One to Trust: Children and Armed Conflict in Colombia, and has continued to work on the issue in partnership with the Coalition against the Involvement of Boys, Girls, and Youth in the Armed Conflict in Colombia (COALICO). Watchlist has echoed COALICO’s calls for the inclusion of children’s rights in negotiations with the FARC-EP and the more recent – albeit faltering – discussions with the ELN.

In January 2018, Watchlist hosted a representative of COALICO in New York to share some of the coalition’s experiences from engaging in the peace process with the FARC-EP. Watchlist and COALICO met with key UN stakeholders and Member States to discuss current concerns affecting children in Colombia. COALICO urged the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG-CAAC) to formally and actively engage on the ELN peace process, and called on Member States to ensure adequate funding and support for the reintegration of former child soldiers, as well as prevention and protection programs, including sustained psychosocial support and vocational training.

During the visit, the representative of COALICO also participated in an annual conference co-facilitated by Watchlist and the Liechtenstein Institute for Self-Determination (LISD) at Princeton University. The presentation highlighted some of the best practices and lessons learned from COALICO’s engagement on the FARC-EP peace process, including the importance of children and youth participation, the need for early and unconditional release of child soldiers, and the significance of recognizing child soldiers first and foremost as victims.

Since 2014, Watchlist has contributed towards the inclusion of child protection in peace processes, including the development with LISD of guidance for mediators on how to integrate child protection provisions into ceasefires and peace accords, as well as research into past processes around the world. In Colombia, COALICO has been actively engaged in the peace process with the FARC-EP, from the negotiation stage to the stage of monitoring implementation of child-related provisions of the final accord.

For further information, click here to read an op-ed Watchlist published on the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, February 12, calling on the Colombian Government and the ELN to prioritize children’s rights.