A country shattered by decades of conflict
SOS family wearing traditional clothes, SOS Children's Village Cali - photo: SOS Archives
The Republic of Colombia is a country in the north-west of South America.
Colombia is the only South American country that has both Caribbean and Pacific coasts. It has the Andes running down its western side, the "Llanos" to the east and the Amazon jungle to the south.
With roughly 47 million people, the country has the third largest Spanish-speaking population worldwide after Mexico and Spain.
Over the last fifty years, Colombia has been marked by an intractable and complex internal conflict that has consumed many lives and led to the displacement of millions of Colombians. The recurring patterns of violence include murder, torture, kidnappings of civilians and forced displacement. Unequal land distribution has been one of the root causes of conflict and displacement in Colombia.
In recent years, Colombia has launched a wide-ranging tourism campaign in order to improve the country's tainted reputation in the world and attract more foreign visitors.
Inequality between rich and poor
The extent to which the phenomenon of internal displacement affects the Colombian people is unmatched in the Americas. Nearly 10 per cent of the Colombian population has been forced to migrate within their own country.
Although Colombia has seen significant economic growth in recent years, the income and wealth distribution remains highly unequal. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), nearly 30 per cent of the Colombian population lives below the national poverty line. Living conditions in rural and urban areas of the country differ significantly: in rural areas, almost half the people lack access to potable water and proper sanitation. There is little access to medical services and education. In bigger cities, the situation is notably better.
Children at risk due to violence and poverty
Siblings playing in the garden, SOS Children's Village Rionegro - photo: Barbara Mair
Colombia's 18 million children make up for roughly 40 per cent of the country's total population. The armed conflict didn’t exclude Colombia's most vulnerable sections of society: young children and adolescents. After being recruited, they frequently became victims of assassinations, land mines, mutilation, sexual abuse and kidnapping.
Children who grow up without parental care are vulnerable to recruitment by street-gangs in which drug abuse and high levels of violence rapidly become part of their everyday lives.
Roughly 10 per cent of all children aged 5-14 - particularly young boys - are engaged in different types of labour activities. Many of these young children are forced to work to earn money for an entire family. They wash windshields at traffic lights, sell merchandise or collect reusable items on waste dumps. The majority of them do not go to school.
SOS Children's Villages in Colombia
Strengthen Families: SOS Children's Villages works with local organisations and communities to support vulnerable families so that they can stay together. We ensure that they have access to basic goods and services such as health care and education. We also provide training and advice so that parents can break the cycle of poverty and generate an income to look after their children. By strengthening families, we prevent children from being forced to go out to work.
Care in SOS families: If, in spite of all support, children are unable to stay with their parents, they can find a new home in an SOS family. Children grow up with their brothers and sisters in a safe environment. Some families live integrated in the community. Wherever possible, we work closely with the children’s family of origin, so that the children can return to live with them.
Support for young people: We support young people until they are able to live independently. We give them access to further education and vocational training so that they have the right skills to find a job, or start their own business.
Emergency Response Programme: In response to the floods that occurred in the south of Colombia in March 2017, SOS Children’s Villages is planning to provide support to affected children and families. We are planning to care temporarily for unaccompanied children and work to reunite them with their families. We will also provide further assistance which will include psychosocial support.