Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
Sexual violence is a form of gender-based violence and encompasses any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed against a person's sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting.
Sexual violence violates children's rights, damages their health, welfare and development, and increases their vulnerability to further violence. Despite this, it continues to be the major 'silent' problem that is affecting children and young people and it is not being addressed as a national priority.
The harmful effects of sexual violence can endure over generations. A child born as a result of sexual violence can experience rejection and alienation at home as a result of the severe psychological trauma experienced by their mother. This neglect can lead to the child lacking the skills to build strong, positive relationships with others, and increases the risk of them turning to an armed group in search of a sense of belonging or protection, or in other ways propagating the cycle of abuse when they become adults themselves.
The current situation in Colombia
Of the 23,798 cases of sexual violence reported in Colombia in 2017, 87% were committed against children under the age of 18, with the highest number of victims being aged 10 - 13. Over 2,600 children under the age of 4 years were reported to have experienced this violence.
2017 saw the highest levels of sexual violence in Colombia for a decade, and an increase of 11% on the number of cases reported in 2016.
The majority of children who experience sexual violence come from the lowest income groups, living in slums on the outskirts of the cities or in isolated rural communities, and the abuse is usually either at the hands of a member of their own family, or the criminal gangs that control their neighbourhood.
The numbers of children experiencing sexual violence have consistently increased in recent years, however, local NGOs estimate that still only 30% of cases are ever reported. A report by the Colombian Public Prosecutor supports this, estimating that the number of children being sexually abused each year is as many as 200,000.
This under-reporting is a result of children being afraid or threatened with further violence or expulsion from their family if they speak out against perpetrators. Sexual abuse against boys remains particularly under-reported due to the stigma attached to it in Colombia's widespread 'machista' culture. Added to this, impunity in cases that are reported is extremely high, reaching up to 98%.
Sexual violence against women and children has been used as a weapon of war during Colombia's prolonged civil conflict and as a result has become, as the Colombian Constitutional Court has recognized, “a widespread, systematic and invisible practice”.
Commercial Sexual Exploitation
Commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is a significant problem in Colombia. Between 2011 and 2013 Colombian Social Services removed 2,135 children from situations where they were being sold for sex. 45% were under 11 years old.
Organizations working in this field have estimated that over 35,000 children are involved in CSEC in Colombia. It is difficult to give any more exact figures than this, as the stigma attached to CSEC means that large numbers of cases go unreported.
Bogotá has been identified as the region in Colombia with the highest incidence of CSEC, however, as children are often given identity documents with a fake date of birth so that they can hide among adult sex workers it remains difficult to know how many children are affected.
What is Children Change Colombia doing?
We are working with our local partners to strengthen children's protection against sexual violence or abuse and help them to deal with the traumas they have experienced and build a positive future for themselves.
We are also working with two partners, Asociación Cristiana de Jóvenes and Círculo de Estudios in Bogotá, Quibdó and Cartagena to teach children about their sexual and reproductive rights so that they can protect themselves and their friends, families and neighbours from abuse or discrimination.
Our partners are also working with parents, schools, community groups, police, social workers, healthcare providers and others, to help to create a protective environment for children and to identify and work with at-risk children before they experience the horrors of sexual abuse.
You can read about our recent achievements tackling this neglected issue in our 2019 Impact Report