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The issue: Recruitment into armed groups

Buenaventura is one of the most violent cities in South America, having become a battleground for two of Colombia's biggest illegal armed groups as they fight for control of this key drug smuggling route. Between 2000 and 2012, there were 3,407 murders, 451 forced disappearances, and 25 massacres; and that is just what has been reported.

Children and young people are at particular risk from this violence.

High levels of child recruitment lead many to assume that all children from certain neighbourhoods must be members of armed groups. When they are recruited, children are forced to commit atrocities as a way of proving their loyalty. This, combined with the armed groups’ frequent use of torture and violence as methods of control, has created a culture of silence and fear, where people are too scared to speak about what’s happening in their community.

Community spaces, like playgrounds or community centres, are too dangerous for children to enter. As a result, children have nowhere to go to be safe from the violence surrounding them or to think about what their life and future could be outside the conflict. 

In addition to this, public institutions do not properly fulfil their protective roles. Communities tend not to challenge this because there is a lack of confidence in these institutions; they are perceived as weak and corrupt, and even sometimes in league with the armed groups. This leaves spaces for the armed groups to commit more violence. 

How FUNDESCODES is addressing this issue

FUNDESCODES is a community-based organisation founded in 2007. It works to create safer communities, where children and young people are protected from threats such as forced recruitment, violence and discrimination. It does this through community mobilisation and the rebuilding of a protective community, proven to be an effective way to reduce violence in Buenaventura.

What does the project do?

This project builds on the achievements of a one-year pilot project we supported Fundescodes to run in 2016. It supports children aged 9 – 14 years from 4 neighbourhoods. The project aims to continue strengthening these communities by making them better able to resist violence and demand that their rights – in particular those of children – are protected by the authorities. It is specifically focused on involving these communities in Colombia’s transition to a post-conflict society.

170 children are receiving training in peaceful conflict resolution and children’s rights through the medium of sport and the arts as well as more formal training. Fundescodes then helps the children to design and run activities to replicate their training for others in their community. They also receive psychosocial support to help them overcome the traumas they have experienced as a result of conflict, displacement and poverty in their communities.

Regular community forums will give child and adult community members opportunities throughout the project to share their experiences and ideas about reconciliation and reparation of victims and how this should function in the context of their community. 

For children from communities that feel they have been neglected by the state for generations, the opportunity Fundescodes offers them to participate in an historical national process is an important, concrete action to promote the inclusive nation the government has promised ‘post-conflict’ will create.

Encouraging and developing youth leadership is a crucial element of Fundescodes’ project. A group of around 30 youth leaders will run a series of communications campaigns to promote children's rights and their experiences of violence and conflict within the local communities. An example of their work, a short film and music video, can be viewed here

Adult community members will receive professional training that will enable them to design and run a series of reparations initiatives for victims of violence and other rights abuses in their communities. A key element of their work with the community will be promoting the development of a community structure that prevents violations of children’s rights and promotes reconciliation.

Case study: Johnny's story

“I grew up seeing violence all the time but I didn’t think anything of it, it was just the way life was. Nobody in my neighbourhood spoke out against it so I had no idea that it was bad. I didn’t know I had rights - anyone could’ve done me harm. Since joining the project three years ago, I’ve changed completely. Nobody can stop me now! I’m helping other children become leaders too – we’re demanding that the local authorities pay attention to us and protect our rights. They try to turn a blind eye but we won’t give up. Together our voices are so loud that they’ll have to listen!”


Thank you for your interest in this project.

To help FUNDESCODES' work continue, you can donate here