Exclusion from Education
Education is every child's right. If children in Colombia are to break free from poverty, education is crucial. Not only does education give children opportunities to build independent and fulfilling lives, but is also a joy that should be experienced by every child.
We believe in equal opportunities in education access, and ensuring that all children have access to quality learning. We also believe that no child should be subjected to child labour.
The current situation in Colombia
Even though the Colombian constitution requires children aged five to fifteen to go to school, approximately 1.2 million Colombian children (11% of all school-age children) currently do not receive any formal education.
Although enrollment rates are often high, it can be difficult for the most at-risk children to remain in school. Indeed only about 88% of those who enrol in primary school stay there until the final primary grade.
Children in rural Colombia are far more likely to drop out of school early than students in urban settings. On average, rural children receive 5.5 years of education while children from towns and cities stay in school for 9.2 years. Consequently, illiteracy rates among children over 15 years are almost four times higher in the countryside - 12.5% compared to 3.3%.
There are many reasons why children drop out of school. These include barriers to access such as the stigma surrounding disability and special educational needs, the invisible borders faced by children living in neighbourhoods controlled by gangs or the long distances and lack of infrastructure children in rural areas face when travelling to their nearest school.
Factors such as family breakdown, the pressure to work or care for younger siblings, the costs of books and uniforms, early pregnancy or marriage, or violence in schools and the local community also force children to drop out of school early.
Decades of extreme violence in Colombian society has spilt over into schools, exposing children to physical abuse, sexual violence and bullying by their peers. Recent studies suggest that 1 in 5 Colombian students have been victims of open discrimination and bullying in school - that's around 2 million children.
Illegal armed groups and gangs also target schools to recruit students as members, obliging them to carry drugs or weapons in and around school or involving them in commercial sexual exploitation.
Many schools do not have the capacity or expertise to prevent or deal with these types of violence.
Another risk faced by children living in rural parts of Colombia is the exploitation of children in mining areas, where more than 5,000 children are working in hazardous conditions in legal and illegal mines.
In recent years, illegal gold exports have surpassed the value of cocaine exports, becoming the country's largest illicit export - up to 80% of Colombia's gold exports and estimated to be produced illegally. In some cases, armed groups directly operate the mines, while in others, they enforce extortion fees and incite terror on communities where unregulated mining is taking place, forcing adults and children to work either in the mine itself or carrying out tasks such as carrying messages or supplies, panning for gold, or for sex.
This has a severely detrimental effect on children's education, leading many children to drop out of school entirely. Although the government regulates child labour in legal mining, the same regulations do not apply to illegal mining, which currently accounts for 85% of all mines in the country, meaning that the majority of child labour in mining goes unchallenged.
Risks for children
Children who experience violence or discrimination in school report feeling scared to attend and a reduction in their academic performance.
The longer children are out of school, the less likely it is that they will ever successfully return, due to the gap between their age and academic level.
Children who do not attend school are at high risk of experiencing violence or commercial sexual exploitation, being recruited into gangs or illegal armed groups and becoming trapped in a cycle of poverty and social exclusion.
What is Children Change Colombia doing?
CCC's partners help at-risk children to know and demand their rights, including their right to accessible, high-quality education. They tell us that the children they work with tend to become more engaged in their studies as a result of the knowledge of their rights and the optimism about the future that they gain from their participation in the projects.
We are working directly on improving access to education for Colombia's most at-risk children. We work with our partner Acadesan on a project that aims to improve education in four extremely remote schools in Colombia's Chocó region, and we have recently launched a new project with El Origen, working in La Guajira to extend remote learning and educational technology to indigenous communities.