Colombia: how the youngest suffer from 'those people'

Colombia: how the youngest suffer from 'those people'
By Euronews
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In Colombia, despite the peace process between the government and the rebel organisation Farc, the conflict is still taking its toll – particularly on children.

Euronews has been to hear some of their stories as they try to live in the land where “those people” – as they call the rebels – operate.

Kelly Jhoanna, who lives in the Tolima region, told us: “You can always hear gunshots in front of my house. Sometimes a stray bullet comes towards us and you think: is something going to happen to me? My grandfather and many other relatives have died because of the conflict.”

Her brother is now with Farc as she explained: “My brother had problems with “those people” – the guerrillas – when the army forced him to work in the market, because there was a base just near there. So my brother helped the army. But one day he went to the other side, where it’s.. how can I say, harder to go. And then he was caught [by the army] and apparently now he is being judged for working with “those people”.

Her mother Maria Graciela Paya is distraught about her son’s fate: “I took it as a kidnapping. It was like a kidnapping because they never let me talk with him. They never let me ask my son: why have you taken this decision? What made you go to that side?”

Forced recruitment is one of the main risks for children like Kelly and her five brothers and sisters. The people in her region have managed to negotiate a peace deal with the armed groups, those whose name nobody dares mention. But on the other side of the mountain, farmers still suffer from the conflict.

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Kelly Jhoanna told us local families are at risk: “When the farmers’ children come to school they often say, ‘This boy or that one has been taken’. When “those people” find out that children are 12, they just take them. They don’t let them study or go out. If children are not taken by the army, they are taken by “those people”.

She is in her last year at the local school, where the UNHCR has worked since 2012. Some of the students come from internally displaced families, and all suffer from restricted mobility and shortages of goods and services.

The UN Refugee Agency is also working in this area, thanks to the EU Children of Peace initiative, helping young people caught in conflicts around the world.

There are 130 students between the ages of 11 and 21 in the school, and education there goes beyond simple classes. UNHCR is working with the community to develop strategies to give children new opportunities within the community itself.

Protecting children from forced recruitment and the traumas of the conflict involves workshops, recreational activities and school programmes to enhance the sense of belonging to this indigenous culture.

Kelly is keen to play her part: “I want to go on studying to help my people, to teach them what I have learned in my classes, and help my community.”

Today on average only one percent of these students will continue their studies. The community dreams of a local university.

Kelly concluded: “We need more higher education. As students and children we need to advance our knowledge and our way of thinking.”

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