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Corporación Casa Amazonía

The issue: Sexual and gender-based violence & recruitment into armed groups

For decades, Putumayo, where this project is based, has been a key strategic area for the armed actors in Colombia’s conflict – government forces, guerrillas and other illegal armed groups. As a result, the largely indigenous population experiences high levels of violence and forced displacement.

Members of armed groups often target school children, asking them to ‘volunteer’ as messengers, informants, combatants or drug traffickers.. They promise regular food, money for their families, and a better quality of life. In the context of extreme poverty and the daily struggle with hunger and violence, children sometimes see these groups as a positive alternative.

Girls, who are often considered secondary to boys in these strongly patriarchal communities, frequently leave education when they are ‘sold’ into marriage by their families as teenagers or because they are expected to carry out domestic duties at home. The widespread acceptance that men have control over girls’ lives and bodies has led to girls facing a very high risk of sexual abuse, both within the community and at the hands of members of armed groups.

In Putumayo, as in other conflict-affected parts of Colombia, these problems are accompanied by weak public institutions, unable to fulfil their responsibility to prevent, and protect children from, these issues. People tend not to challenge this because there is a lack of confidence in these institutions; they are often perceived as weak and corrupt, and even sometimes in league with the armed groups.

In order to create greater protection for children and build more peaceful communities, Corporación Casa Amazonía has found that it is necessary to strengthen the capacity of community actors to demand that state institutions fulfil their obligations to protect communities, and especially children. 

How Casa Amazonía is addressing this issue

Corporación Casa Amazonía works to protect children and young people in remote communities in Putumayo from sexual violence and forced recruitment by making these dangers more visible and helping children to develop the skills to protect themselves, and the skills to participate effectively in the political structures of their community, so that they can demand that those responsible for protecting their rights (parents, teachers and community leaders) do so.

What does the project do?

Children and young people take part in workshops in their schools to learn about sexual violence, and how to protect themselves from it. They develop formal life goal plans as part of reflecting on what they want from their futures and the benefits of staying out of armed groups. They also develop skills to communicate effectively at school, in their families and in the community to ensure that adults understand their responsibilities for protecting children's rights. Parents, teachers and community leaders are supported to gain the tools necessary to reduce risks to children under their care and to make greater demands on the local state institutions to properly fulfil their protective role.

Casa Amazonía also runs therapeutic sessions for the children, their parents and teachers. This element is extremely important given that many of the children and adults have experienced violence, including sexual violence, themselves and may have seen their family members or others killed violently during the conflict. The therapeutic activities, which include a peace dance and a temazcal (sweat lodge), are traditional practices which offer the children the additional benefit of reconnecting with their culture.

Children also take part in actively constructing a more peaceful community by learning how to develop better relationships with their peers, families and communities, and non-violent ways to resolve the conflicts that form a part of their daily lives. They are encouraged to think about what a culture of peace would involve, what it would mean for them, and what actions they can take to create more peaceful environments at home, at school, and in their communities.

Case study: Lucia's story

 “I used to be really shy, I didn’t like telling people about things that happened to me, and I was focused on my own problems instead of thinking about others. I felt hopeless and alone. Now I feel strong. I’ve learnt so much. I’ve learnt that it’s important to speak out when something isn’t right. I’ve learnt that we can’t achieve anything alone; to make changes and protect ourselves we have to work together and support each other. These days my friends and I speak out together. We’ve learnt to tell people about the bad things that happen. We’ve learnt that we can’t keep quiet about these things, because if we do, nothing will ever change.

I’ve also tried to change the image that others have of my community. People think of us only as violent and dangerous. It’s true there’s a lot of conflict here, but no-one focuses on the positive things; the kindness of the people, the potential that we have to be a peaceful community. That’s why it’s important for me to defend myself, to defend my community, and for us to speak out together so we don’t keep being trampled on and ignored.”

Thank you for your interest in this project

To help Corporación Casa Amazonía's work continue, you can donate here.