COLUMBIA: Child Victims of Sexual Crimes During Armed Conflict Increase

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One of the dormitories for girls where they receive shelter, food, education, psychological assistance, health care and, above all, love at the Asociación Hogar por un Nuevo Planeta. (Ernesto Suárez Gómez for Infosurhoy.com)

By Ernesto Suárez Gómez for Infosurhoy.com on August 22, 2013—
“The life story of 18-year-old Daniela, whose real name is not revealed for safety reasons, is marked by sexual violence committed as a result of the armed conflict.

She was conceived when her mother allegedly was working as a collaborator with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the department of Meta, southeast of Bogotá.

On that day, four men arrived at the mother’s house, saying they had come on behalf of her boss, changing her life forever.

In 2008, she attempted to flee the attacks by moving to the department of Valle del Cauca with Daniela and her older sibling, but the conflict continued to haunt them.

In September 2008, a neighbor sexually assaulted Daniela, when she was just 13. The perpetrator was released a year later, citing mental problems, a common problem with abusers.

Crimes like this happen every day to children in the regions most affected by Colombia’s armed conflict. But official statistics are non-existent, and most cases go unreported for fear of reprisals.

“It’s impossible to rely on exact records regarding this issue, but fieldwork has shown that it’s quite common, especially in more remote areas without monitoring, which generally also are the most affected by the armed conflict,” said Vilma Gómez, the vice president of Defense for Children International (DCI) – Colombia.

In the recent report “Unspeakable Crimes against Children: Sexual Violence in Conflict” by the NGO Save the Children, Colombia is listed as one of the countries where minors are most vulnerable to these crimes.

“Sexual violence in the context of armed conflict takes the form of rape and sexual abuse, forced abortions, sexual slavery by the leaders of illegal armed groups and control of the sexual conduct of children recruited into the ranks of these organizations,” said Adriana González, director of the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF).

Sexual violence amid armed conflict is a recurring phenomenon that can be perpetrated by family members, neighbors, teachers, religious leaders and other young people, according to the report.

“In armed conflicts, sexual violence is used as a weapon of war, a strategy to subdue the enemy, claim territory, intimidate a community or merely to exact revenge,” said Paola Franceschi, director of the Asociación Hogar Niños por un Nuevo Planeta.

The Bogotá-based NGO provides assistance to children who have been the victims of sexual exploitation and abuse, physical and psychological violence and extreme poverty.

“The most common cases involve the forced recruitment of girls by illegal armed groups, who turn them into sexual slaves,” said a psychologist who spent two years analyzing cases as part of the governmental program to provide reparations to victims and whose name is being withheld for security reasons.

One of the most dramatic cases of sexual violence to come to light is that of Hernán Giraldo Serna, a former leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) in the department of Magdalena.

He is suspected of fathering 35 children in the region, with 19 born while their mothers were minors, including one mom who was 12 years old, according to investigations being carried out by the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office.

Giraldo Serna was extradited to the United States in 2008 to face drug-trafficking charges. The Colombian Attorney General’s Office is working also to ensure that he is convicted for crimes against humanity stemming from his propensity for sexual abuse.

To date, not a single member of a paramilitary organization has been convicted of sexual offenses, despite repeated evidence of this type of crime in different regions nationwide.”

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