NewsBriefs BUTTONS

Colombia's Children Victims of Drug War


February 1995

They are called the Disposable Ones -- homeless children in the streets of Bogota, Colombia who scavenge for recyclable materials in landfills to make money. According to human rights groups, these children are more and more frequently the victims of random violence (Steven Gutkin, "Colombia's Children Caught in the Cross-Fire of Crime," Washington Post, Jan. 5, 1994, p. A21).

"On paper, they are the country's most protected citizens, while in practice, they are more prone to murder than children in any other country in the world," said a report by Human Rights Watch, a private group that monitors human rights abuses.

In 1993, the Colombian government reported the murders of 2,190 children. Brazil, another country that has been in the news for the number of street children murdered, has a population five times greater than Colombia's and had 1,500 reports of murdered children in 1991.

Colombia's criminal justice system is not equipped to handle investigations on this scale. In only 1.4 percent of child murder cases will a suspect be arrested, and in only 0.5 percent of cases will there be a trial. Children who commit murder or other crimes are hardly ever brought to justice because there is not enough space in detention centers and jails to hold them.

A study by the Colombian attorney general's office says that the Medellin and Cali cartels are the groups most responsible for the murder of street children. Police often ignore, privately endorse, or participate in the murders. Other groups, such as business owners and criminals, are suspected of teaming up to carry out a plan of "social cleansing."

The street children, who are estimated to be up to seventy percent of the homeless population in Bogota, have been abandoned by parents or have run away from their homes, trying to escape abuse. Many are drug addicted, and rely on purse snatchings or prostitution to get along.

[For a copy of this report, contact Human Rights Watch at 485 5th Avenue, New York, New York, 10017, 212-972-8400. There is a $7 charge. Ask for the report on children in Colombia released in January 1995.]