On 4 February 2015, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (Committee) issued concluding observations on the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports submitted by Colombia. Over the last months, Colombian national child rights NGOs have been working together on a parallel report they presented to the pre-sessional working meeting held last June in Geneva. In particular, Watchlist’s partner COALICO provided expert advice on the situation of children affected by the armed conflict and brought to the attention of the Committee key issues that were directly addressed by the Committee.
In its observations, the Committee raised concerns about the ‘heavy recruitment’ of children by the criminal groups formed as a result of the demobilization of paramilitary groups (BACRIM). The government of Colombia does not recognize this group of children as victims of the conflict. Rather, Colombian law labels them as criminals. As a result, children associated with the BACRIM are not eligible to participate in reintegration programs, and may be subjected to the full force of the law when facing justice for their involvement with the armed groups. The Committee urged the government of Colombia to ensure that children associated with the BACRIM are offered equal treatment as victims of the conflict, including full access to reintegration programs.
The Committee also expressed its concerns with violations of children’s rights allegedly committed by the Police and the armed forces, in particular sexual violence and the continuing use of children as part of intelligence gathering activities. Lastly, the Committee also reaffirmed the importance of including children’s opinions, interests and needs as part of the current peace negotiation with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC–EP) in Havana. Despite recent efforts to address the issue of child soldiers in the negotiation, parties to the peace process are still failing to recognize children associated with the FARC-EP as victims of the conflict.
The observations made by the Committee support civil society’s efforts to better protect the rights of children affected by the conflict. The next step for child rights organizations is to advocate for the Committee’s recommendations to be integrated in Colombia’s policies affecting the protection of children at the national level.
 The Committee is the body on independent experts that monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by its State parties. It also monitors the implementation of two optional protocols to the Convention, on the involvement of children in armed conflict and on sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. All State parties are required to submit regular reports on how the rights are being implemented to the Committee who examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of concluding observations.