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Monday, March 2, 2015

Human Rights Program works to improve the situation of children's rights in Colombia

crc.jpgFor years, the Department of Antioquia, Colombia has been torn apart by armed conflict, displacing thousands of its residents. Consequently, many of the children living in the region have suffered from violence, homelessness, sexual exploitation, inadequate housing, and haphazard adoptions in which the state has carelessly placed children in harmful circumstances. Additionally, Antioquia's children have also been impacted by environmental pollution, illegal mining work, lack of access to healthcare, and child marriages. In an attempt to improve the situation in Antioquia, La Alianza submitted a shadow report to the Committee on the Rights of a Child (CRC) with recommendations outlining ways in which the Colombian government can work to advance the rights of children in the region.

The Minnesota-Antioquia Human Rights Partnership, or La Alianza, is a multi-year initiative coordinated by the University of Minnesota Human Rights Program. La Alianza connects both the Human Rights Program and the University of Minnesota Law School's Human Rights Litigation and International Legal Advocacy Clinic with four partner law schools in Antioquia, Colombia (La Universidad de Antioquia, La Universidad de Medellín, La Universidad Catolica del Oriente, and the Universidad Pontifica Bolivariana). The group was formed to strengthen the capacity of the four law schools in Antioquia to teach, research, and provide clinical legal representation toward the promotion of international human rights and the rule of law.

The findings of the group regarding the situation of children's rights in Antioquia are disheartening. The government is not allocating enough resources to protect the rights of children in these areas, and those that exist are typically underfunded and understaffed. Many children in the area find themselves forced into child labor and consequently do not receive proper education. Furthermore, children whose parents have been displaced are often haphazardly placed in the foster care system or put up for adoption. Rather than taking the time to find each child a home, the state puts them in poor housing, violating their right to be heard and to due process. Once children are placed in a home, their situation is never reassessed to determine if they are in a healthy environment. Many children in the area are also suffering from respiratory and other diseases due to pollution and lack of access to clean water.

La Alianza brought these and many other issues to the attention of the Committee on the Rights of the Child when it submitted its shadow report in March 2014. In response, the CRC invited La Alianza to a pre-session committee meeting in June to discuss the situation in Colombia. During the pre-session, the Colombian government took the opportunity to respond to concerns brought to their attention by the CRC. Noting Colombia's response, La Alianza submitted another shadow report for the Committee session on Colombia in January. The shadow report contributed significantly to the Concluding Observations adopted by the CRC in its recent session. Many of the CRC's concluding observations are directly related to issues addressed by La Alianza in its reports. These include insufficient resources and lack of access to the judicial system among others.

In response, the CRC has recommended that the state ensure effective implementation of current legislative measures as well evaluate current legislation to ensure that children are provided with and have access to adequate resources. The CRC has also asked Colombia to ensure that businesses are adequately held accountable for their use of child labor and to closely monitor the implementation of these measures. Furthermore, the CRC has taken into account La Alizanza's concerns about marginalization of children, especially girls, and has called for Colombia to take measures to eliminate such inequality. The CRC has also looked into La Alianza's concerns about children not being a priority in the legal system.

The Human Rights Program is pleased with the Concluding Observations released by CRC as it has highlighted a number of concerns outlined by La Alianza in its shadow reports.
-written by Mary Mikhaeel