Colombian Armed Groups Exploit Venezuelan Minors

Colombian Armed Groups Exploit Venezuelan Minors

By Myriam Ortega / Diálogo
January 27, 2020

In late 2019, several international organizations reported that Colombian illegal armed groups have been exploiting Venezuelan minors. Groups such as the National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish), dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish), Clan del Golfo, and other criminal rings engaged in narcotrafficking, illegal mining, or human trafficking recruit Venezuelan children and teenagers in the border areas between Colombia and Venezuela, the organizations said.

“Armed groups control the border, and crossing it poses various challenges,” María Paula Martínez, executive director of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Save the Children Colombia, told Diálogo. “Children and teenagers are exposed to human trafficking, the dynamics of sexual exploitation, and child labor.”

The NGO Human Rights Watch also reported abuses from Colombian armed groups against Venezuelan minors. Its October report The War in Catatumbo, reveals the difficulties Venezuelans face in Norte de Santander department, which borders Venezuela and is one of Colombia’s most violent regions.

“Sometimes, boys and girls are forced to join an armed group, after group members threaten to kill them or their families. Other times, they do it under the promise of money,” the report indicates.

Several groups involved in narcotrafficking and related crimes (that engage in turf wars to control the region) operate in Catatumbo and the surrounding areas of Cúcuta (capital of Norte de Santander), and recruit Venezuelan and Colombian minors to harvest coca leaf. Some teenagers work in micro-trafficking, while others, for example, are used for intelligence work —surveillance of certain areas or people — or as combatants, “because they [members of armed groups] know that they [the minors] can be easily replaced,” Colombian Army Captain César Augusto López Quintero, professor at the War College of Colombia’s Military Forces and expert in armed conflict and terrorism, told Diálogo.

“They make the girls cook, they use them as sexual partners,” Martínez said. “Some of them [the girls] start selling [coffee], but it’s common for many residents in border areas to perceive them as sexual workers. And they offer them money for sex, whether they are working or not.”

According to Colombia’s Observatory of Women and Gender Equality, 99 percent of foreign female sex workers are Venezuelan.

In November, Alfonso Negret, who leads Colombia’s Ombudsman’s Office, condemned the forced enlisting of Colombian and Venezuelan minors at the border between both countries. Venezuelan migrants run the risk of falling into the hands of criminal groups, due to their vulnerability, said Negret, who called for the State to guarantee the protection of minors who defect from these armed groups.

While it isn’t known exactly how many children are under the control of armed groups, the Colombian government said that almost 200 had been rescued from criminal organizations in 2019, though it did not specify whether the number included Venezuelan minors.

Migración Colombia, the government agency responsible for controlling and monitoring migration in the country, said that more than 1.6 million Venezuelans were in Colombia after escaping their country’s economic crisis. According to the institution’s latest data, issued on October 31, 20 percent of Venezuelan migrants live in Bogotá. Norte de Santander is the department with the second highest number of Venezuelan migrants, more than 180,000.

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