The coronavirus pandemic has contributed to an increase in the recruitment of children by armed groups in Colombia, as schools and protective services have had to close, Save the Children said on Friday.
Dozens of children have been killed, maimed, or recruited by armed groups in a recent surge of violence and civil unrest in the South American country, the organization said in a statement.
It quoted figures from the Coalition Against the Involvement of Children and Youth in the Colombian Armed Conflict (COALICO), which reported 190 cases of recruitment and use of children by armed groups in the first half of this year.
That was up from 38 cases in the corresponding period in 2019. “This deeply worrying trend is partly due to the coronavirus pandemic – as schools and other protective services have closed, children have become an easier target for armed groups,” Save the Children said.
The pandemic has not prevented violence from increasing rapidly, the organization noted. Colombia has witnessed more than 60 massacres – defined as killings of at least three people – that claimed over 240 lives so far this year, according to the local conflict watchdog Indepaz.
Several of the massacres targeted groups of minors. President Ivan Duque’s government attributes the massacres to armed groups vying over the cocaine trade and territory.
Duque’s predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos, signed a peace deal with the guerrilla movement FARC in 2016, but FARC dissidents, the other guerrilla group National Liberation Army (ELN), paramilitary and criminal gangs remain active in many regions.
Maria Paula Martinez, country director for Save the Children in Colombia, said: “A swift, concerted response by the authorities, the civil society and communities is essential to stop this war on children.”