Paving The Way for Colombia’s Young Human Rights Defenders
Dec. 10, 2021
Preserving Mother Earth
In remote pockets of north western Colombia, assaults by guerillas and other armed groups are the order of the day. The ongoing internal conflict is gaining the support of new and existing actors, leading to increased rates of forced displacement, confinement, harassment and landmine accidents. Meanwhile, illegal mining and drug trafficking are putting whole communities at risk.
In the absence of an effective police force, Indigenous Guards volunteer themselves to protect their community and ancestral lands without the use of arms. A growing number of children and youth - some as young as 10 - are continuing the work of their elders. Their focus is on the preservation of ‘Mother Earth’ - including by using traditional practices to limit the damage to water resources as a result of illegal mining.
Heightened Risk of Recruitment
While these alternative scouts use peaceful methods, their exposure to armed groups and government forces is leaving them at heightened risk of recruitment.
Worldwide, this reflects a worrying upward trend. New research by Uppsala University, the Peace Research Institute Oslo and Save the Children, reveals that the number of armed groups recruiting children globally rose during the COVID-19 pandemic to 110, compared to 85 in 2019.
Protecting the Protectors
Through an EU-funded project - Resguardos de Paz (Peace Safeguards) - War Child is working to extend a safety net around these young protectors. We are currently supporting 3,100 indigenous children and community members - primarily of Embera Dóbida, Embera Katío and Wounaan ethnic descent - in 28 locations across Chocó and Antioquia.
Through educative workshops, children develop an understanding of their fundamental human rights and ancestral heritage. They also develop key leadership and skills and learn how to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence. In this way, we strengthen the work of local Indigenous Guards.
Another critical aspect of what we do is to train teachers, ethnic-territorial organisation representatives and government officials to work with child and community protection structures and develop early warning systems. Project facilitator, Edison Dumasá: “Our main goal is to rescue and preserve local traditions and customs, all while helping children develop the interpersonal skills to keep themselves safe.”