In its 40 plus years of civil war, Colombia has had a long history of human rights abuses, especially against its children. One estimate says about 4,300 children die violent deaths in Colombia annually, which isn’t surprising, given that over 7,000 of them serve as “soldiers” on one side or the other of the conflict. In response to this, children from some of the most war torn areas of Colombia formed what has come to be known as the Children’s Mandate for Peace Movement.
In October 1996, children from all over Colombia petitioned the government for a special election to be held whereby they could vote on issues they saw as important to them and their future. Supported by various international children’s organizations, such as UNICEF, Save the Children, and the Red Cross, the Children’s Mandate for Peace election was held and 2.7 million children – 1/3 of Colombia’s population aged 7-18 - voted for rights originally outlined in the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child. This is significant given that original estimates on how many children would participate were as low as 300,000. The election spawned the movement, which is lead by five teenagers – Juan Elias Uribe (17), Dilia Lozano (14), Farliz Calle (18), Mayerly Sanchez (15) and Wilfrido Zambrano (17) - who have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in both 1998 and 1999. Currently, the movement is conducting work in small communities across the country in an attempt to build a strong base for long term peace.
The impact of this movement is evident in other countries around the world. In Mexico, children voted in 1997 for the right to a better education. Government policy makers responded by changing the school curricula. In Canada, a group of school children used the election as an educational tool to learn about their rights. A movie entitled “Soldiers of Peace” documenting the work of these five teenage leaders has been made.
This movement is unique in several ways; the first being that children are leading the way for peace and are making progress where adults have so far failed. An example of this is that peace became a key platform in the 1998 Presidential election and was listed as a priority by Andres Pastrann’s government. Secondly, it has given rise to similar adult movements in both Colombia and Mexico. In Colombia, 10+ million adults voted in the 1997 election, as opposed to 4 million in the previous year. The movement can be used as a model to inspire and educate children in similar countries about their rights. It can also be used as an educational tool for children in countries not engulfed in war to learn about these issues and the impact they could have on their own future.
New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.