In February, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict visited Colombia to monitor the implementation of key activities by its national child protection partner. The visit was also an opportunity to follow up on the implementation of the peace agreement between the Government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP).
Over the past year, Watchlist has supported national partners in Colombia to promote child protection throughout the peace process with the FARC-EP. During negotiations between the Government and the FARC-EP, partners actively advocated for the incorporation of inclusive and child-protection related language and provisions in the peace accord. In May 2016, the parties to the conflict signed an agreement on the separation and reintegration of children associated with the FARC-EP, in which they committed to ensuring that separated children be treated primarily as victims, and that their best interests be considered as a matter of priority in the reintegration into their communities. Since the release of the first group of children from the FARC-EP in September 2016, Watchlist’s national partners have been closely monitoring the resulting reintegration process.
While the signing of the peace accord was a major accomplishment in bringing an end to over 50 years of armed conflict with the FARC-EP, there is still a great deal of work to do to ensure the protection of children in Colombia. Children and adolescents continue to be at risk of recruitment and use by armed groups, sexual violence, and other human rights violations, as other non-State armed actors seek to occupy spaces previously under FARC-EP control; these actors include the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN), post-demobilization armed groups (PDAGs), and organized crime groups, as well as FARC-EP dissidents in some regions of the country.
In addition to implementing the agreement with the FARC-EP, the Colombian Government has begun peace talks with the ELN. Watchlist urges the Government to consider children affected by armed conflict in the early phases of these discussions, and the ELN to put an immediate end to its recruitment and use of children.
Undoubtedly, Colombia has made great strides in advancing peace through negotiations with the FARC-EP and initial discussions with the ELN. Ensuring that children’s rights are protected and respected would help to consolidate these gains and create a lasting, sustainable peace.