International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers
“I want to buy myself a house… actually, a big house! I want to go to University, think in big…” says Catalina who recently graduated with a diploma in Graphic Arts from Ciudad Don Bosco, a non-profit educational and social institution run by the Salesian Community of Medellin. On the occasion of the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and Ciudad Don Bosco has presented the documentary film ‘Alto el Fuego’ by Raul de la Fuente, produced by KANAKI Films. The documentary narrates the fears, dreams, and hopes of Catalina and Manuel, two former child soldiers in Colombia. They describe the process of recruitment into the guerrilla movement, the difficult reintegration process with the support of the Don Bosco Centro for demobilized youth in Colombia, as well as their dreams of a future life in peace.
The 50 years of armed conflict in Colombia between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP), the ELN, the Paramilitaries and Colombian government impacted the lives of more than 8 million people. Throughout the conflict, thousands of children and youth were recruited into armed groups and ultimately, many became victims of violence. Their childhood was traded for guns, the jungle became their home and the battalion their family.
The Reintegration Process
In November 2016, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) signed the General Agreement for the Termination of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable and Lasting Peace. The first step of the agreement was the lay-down of arms and the demobilization process of the members of the FARC-EP, which soon will result in the return of hundreds of youth who had been recruited by the armed group. This will be the start of the reintegration process, called the re-establishment of human rights, for many Colombian youth.
Since 2014, UNITAR has contributed to the prevention of the recruitment of children and youth by armed groups in Colombia. In partnership with the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldier Initiative and Ciudad Don Bosco, UNITAR has developed comics as well as a capacity building programme to strengthen the capacity of local communities to help prevent the recruitment of children as soldiers. An exhibition about the project, “Pintando el Futuro” was also opened to the audience during film screening.
The documentary was followed by a panel discussion introduced by Dr. Beatriz Londoño Soto, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Colombia to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva. The Closing Remarks were offered by Dr. Rosemary McCarney, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva. The panelists were:
Catalina and Manuel, the characters and former child soldiers
Padre Rafael Bejarano, Director of Ciudad Don Bosco, (Medellin)
Mr. James Areiza, General Coordinator of Ciudad Don Bosco (Medellin)
Mr. Raúl de la Fuente, film director
Representatives from UNITAR.