BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Nearly 50,000 Colombian children, most of them girls, were raped and or sexually abused by warring factions in the country’s armed conflict between 2008 and 2012, said a new report that also raised the alarming issue of children being used in “networks of forced prostitution” in regions where foreign contractors work in the oil industry.
For five decades Colombia has been mired in fighting between state security forces, leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitary militias. All of these armed groups, along with drug-running criminal gangs, are responsible for sexual violence against children, said the study by Oxfam International and 10 non-governmental organisations.
Colombia has no national register for sexual violence against children, and little nationwide research has been done on the issue, making it difficult to gauge the extent of the problem, and in turn for the government to provide adequate support to child victims of sexual violence.
“The numbers are appalling. It’s an underreported problem. We couldn’t know the characteristics of victims. We don’t know their exact ages, if they are Afro-Colombian or indigenous. Knowing this is important because it conditions the response the Colombian government has to give to children,” said Diana Arango, Oxfam’s coordinator of the campaign "Rape and other Violence”, which includes the study.
“We also need to know who is perpetrating these acts. On the registers it just says armed actor and doesn’t say if it’s an illegal armed group or a legal group (security forces),” she told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The study, billed as the first of its kind, says at least 48,915 children under the age of 18, including 7,602 boys, suffered some type of sexual violence, such as rape, sexual exploitation and forced prostitution at the hands of armed groups between 2008 and 2012.
The figures in the report combine data held by various government institutions that have received reports from children, sometimes accompanied by their parents, who say they were victims of sexual abuse by armed groups.
CHILDREN FORCED INTO PROSTITUTION
The report notes sexual violence against children is not just happening in Colombia’s conflict-ridden areas and in the ranks of the country’s two rebel groups - the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN), which are both known to recruit child soldiers.
There are growing concerns that children are used in “networks of forced prostitution” in Colombia’s remote Amazon jungle provinces in the country’s south, where foreign contractors employed in the oil sector work, the report said.
“Forced prostitution and sexual exploitation of children is something that is happening more and more in the country,” said Arango.
Rights groups have called on the Colombian government to do more to provide justice and support to child victims of sexual violence, in a country where only 2 percent of such crimes are punished, Arango said.
“We are calling on the Colombian government to get a complete registry system of child victims of sexual violence and make them homogenous so that we can understand the magnitude of the problem. If there is no such registry, no public policy can be fulfilled,” she said.
The issue of war victims’ rights and compensation is one of six points on the agenda of peace talks between the FARC rebels and Colombian government, which have been taking place in Havana since November 2012.
It is hoped as talks between the two sides continue, the rights of victims, including children and women who have suffered sexual violence, will be discussed at the negotiating table.