Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms
End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.
- Two of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals targets
Child soldiers in illegal armed groups serving narco-traffickers, being sold into sexual exploitation, working in mines, internally displaced, denied education, or denied a loving family - this is the reality for many children in Colombia.
Since the beginning of the 80s, there has been a huge problem with violence and narco-trafficking, made popular in the media by shows like Narcos and Pablo Escobar: The Drug Lord. But these shows don't often portray something that's happening in reality - that many children are joining the narco-trafficking organizations and other illegal armed groups as child soldiers.
It is estimated that there were nearly 16,000 child soldiers before the demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a guerilla movement involved in the conflict. As many as 52% of members of the major armed groups in Colombia were recruited as children.
Founded in 1991, Children Change Colombia is a non-profit organization that works in partnership with the Colombian government and grassroots organizations to support children affected by poverty, inequality, and conflict.
“Helping and guiding children that were recruited and that were former soldiers to go back to social and civil life through foster families, and then help them once they become 18 and become adults, to start life outside the war.” - Angela Carreno, Executive Director at Children Change Colombia, on the work they do.
One of the most important works they do is to guide these children back to their community. This process involves a few different areas.
Children Change Colombia first provides psycho-social support for these children so that they can recover from the trauma that they experienced. They run individual and group sessions to help these children learn about their rights, recognize that they do not have to be victims, develop autonomy, and learn life skills that help them plan for their future.
They then connect these children with foster families who can help them integrate back into their community.
After this, the organization works to educate members of the community to reduce the stigma and form acceptance towards ex-child soldiers.
The capacity to make choices about their lives
In 2018, Children Change Colombia protected the rights of 2066 children and gave them freedom from violence, abuse, and neglect.
While there is always a percentage that do go back to the armed groups, over 80% the children stay in their new lives and relish the opportunity to have a family and be free. Eventually some also become parents themselves and want to keep their children away from their past.
Here's a story from Jorge - one of the children supported by Children Change Colombia.
In Jorge Luis’ neighbourhood, children are being recruited by gangs with the offer of money and gifts. But after joining one of these projects in his neighbourhood, he learnt about his right to education and freedom from violence. Jorge has since decided he’d much rather spend his time having fun at the project than risk his own and his families’ safety by getting involved with a gang.
COVID-19 and its impact
COVID-19 has far-reaching impacts that may not always be visible. In Colombia, there is a large percentage of people, estimated at over 50%, who are informal workers and have lost their income now as they cannot go to work and pay for rent or food. All over the world and in Colombia, the number of domestic abuse cases are rising, and the number of children being recruited are unfortunately increasing too.
In areas with no Internet, schools are closed, and the children don’t have anything else to do, so illegal armed groups are using this opportunity to offer them food and work and involve them in narco-trafficking. It’s not possible to know what will happen in the next year, so the team and their partners will always have their eyes open, ears to the ground, and be there for as long as it is needed to work for the children.
"Although the lockdown has kept us confined to our homes, we have established routines that have allowed us to learn from things we can do to pass the time. Every day we have a routine, we exercise, we do crafts, we do homework, we play hopscotch on the terrace, we invent recipes and we end our evening remembering and laughing." - a foster mother supporting children formerly associated with armed groups
In addition to keeping children out of armed groups, Children Change Colombia also work to protect children from sexual exploitation, from working in toxic mines, and exclusion from education.
Together with the B1G1 Business for Good Community, Children Change Colombia has created 52,228 impacts in defending the rights of children affected by poverty, inequality, and conflict.
B1G1 member Wayne Schmidt recently had a chat with Angela Carreno, Executive Director at Children Change Colombia, to find out from her what life is like at Children Change Colombia and how they in turn change lives. Watch to learn more about how you can help.