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Colombia, No Country For Children

An attack on a guerilla camp killed several minors earlier this year. It was an 'accident,' say authorities, but it says a lot about the country's dismal child welfare record.

Children in Cartagena, Colombia
Children in Cartagena, Colombia
Héctor Abad Faciolince


BOGOTÁ — Childhood isn't just a matter of being under a certain age. If minors are legal subjects with special protections, it is precisely because a state that is both serious and beneficial seeks to offer them the effective — and affective — opportunity to be children. Except in Colombia, this isn't the case.

Here, children are prevented from having a proper childhood. This happens through child labor, domestic violence, abandonment, begging, deficient schools and sexual harassment. Add to that the prospect of being bombed, mutilated and killed from the air — as happened when army planes bombed a guerrilla base in August — without regard for the fact that they may find themselves in a spot unwillingly.

Girls are deceived and abused. Boys are coerced. This especially happens in marginal neighborhoods, where criminal gangs actively recruit children. They train kids to be killers and convince them that as minors, the punishments — assuming they're ever caught — will be light. Sexual tourism exploits them in other ways: Teenagers, male virgins and even children under the age of puberty are offered to pedophiles.

If there are eight children in a camp of 15 guerrillas, well, bad luck.

You just have to move about a bit to see where it is done: Children are sold here, rented out there. And deep in the countryside, where the state's hand is weaker even than in the cities (if not entirely absent) and where precarious and battered family ties are broken, drug-trafficking gangs or still active guerrillas recruit children using threats, blackmail or deception.

Our leaders, the country's tough-talking, merciless right, think force and fury are the solutions. If there are eight children in a camp of 15 guerrillas, well, bad luck. They shouldn't have been there. They shouldn't have let themselves be recruited. That's the mentality, even if the powers that be primarily blame the people who recruited those children.

They're right about that, but at the same time, they ignore the secondary culprits: the people who bombed the camp indiscriminately. The people, in other words, who actually killed those children.

Children in a clean-up session in Cartagena — Photo: Enzo Tomasiello/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Supposedly they didn't know that the camp in question, the hideout for the FARC dissident chief Gildardo Cucho, consisted mostly of little girls and teenagers. Should we really believe that? And while the order given clearly wasn't to "go kill those children," it may well have been: "Go kill "Old man" Gildardo and if there are children around him, well, so be it."

Out of desperation, we have accepted that the army also fights guerrillas, drug traffickers and other Colombians.

At the end of August, the government defined the operation that terminated Gildardo's life as "impeccable and meticulous." For months it hid information that a part of this guerrilla cell (at least eight of 15 members) were mostly minors. They never revealed how the public prosecutor had previously denounced forced recruitment and possible kidnappings of teenagers in the (San Vicente de Caguán) area, which likely entailed sexual exploitation as the girls were forced to take birth control pills.

It's alright, apparently, to kill a few children, just as long as we get that old reprobate! Generally, countries under civilian rule do not use the army to fight their own citizens. Armies exist to face an invading army or outside enemies. In the case of a war, bombings against that enemy are accepted. But here, out of desperation, we have accepted that the army also fights guerrillas, drug traffickers and other Colombians.

To do so, we give the military the biggest chunk of the national budget. And we even agree that its members can retire at the age of 40, while the rest of us pay the pensions for their next 40 years.

Is it time to rethink all this? Should we not spend more money on education and human resources. Should we not do more to protect our children? We are not giving poorer Colombians a shot at a real childhood, because children subjected to so much abuse, violence and injustice, cannot really be children.

Instead we turn them into little monsters who are overwhelmed by fear and terror. The end up being cornered beasts unable to judge, ready to do anything. They'll even kill, just so they won't be killed.

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The Problem With Always Blaming Climate Change For Natural Disasters

Climate change is real, but a closer look at the science shows there are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters. It is important to raise awareness about the long-term impact of global warming, but there's a risk in overstating its role in the latest floods or fires.

People on foot, on bikes, motorcycles, scooters and cars navigate through a flooded street during the day time.

Karachi - People wade through flood water after heavy rain in a southern Pakistani city

Xinhua / ZUMA
Axel Bojanowski


BERLIN — In September, thousands of people lost their lives when dams collapsed during flooding in Libya. Engineers had warned that the dams were structurally unsound.

Two years ago, dozens died in floods in western Germany, a region that had experienced a number of similar floods in earlier centuries, where thousands of houses had been built on the natural floodplain.

Last year saw more than 1,000 people lose their lives during monsoon floods in Pakistan. Studies showed that the impact of flooding in the region was exacerbated by the proximity of human settlements, the outdated river management system, high poverty rates and political instability in Pakistan.

There are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters, but one dominates the headlines: climate change. That is because of so-called attribution studies, which are published very quickly after these disasters to highlight how human-caused climate change contributes to extreme weather events. After the flooding in Libya, German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described climate change as a “serial offender," while the Tageszeitung wrote that “the climate crisis has exacerbated the extreme rainfall."

The World Weather Attribution initiative (WWA) has once again achieved its aim of using “real-time analysis” to draw attention to the issue: on its website, the institute says its goal is to “analyse and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events." Frederike Otto, who works on attribution studies for the WWA, says these reports help to underscore the urgent need for climate action. They transform climate change from an “abstract threat into a concrete one."

In the immediate aftermath of a weather-related disaster, teams of researchers rush to put together attribution studies – “so that they are ready within the same news cycle," as the New York Times reported. However, these attribution studies do not meet normal scientific standards, as they are published without going through the peer-review process that would be undertaken before publication in a specialist scientific journal. And that creates problems.

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