By Sylvia Charry, CAMBIOColombia, January 20, 2023

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

While the Institute of Forensic Medicine has a report in its system that registered 17,106 cases of alleged sexual violence against children younger than 14 in 2022, in the same year, the Attorney General’s Office has only charged 8,188 individuals as alleged sexual predators.

According to the Institute, 17,106 boys and girls were the victims of sexual violence in 2022. In the first two weeks of 2023, there have already been 458 cases of alleged abuse of children. Meanwhile, the path to receiving care in such cases is so inefficient and so slow that cases almost always end in impunity.

After Univisión published the report, “The Law of the Jungle: Indigenous girls in the Colombian Amazon are victims of sexual violations in the midst of a hunger crisis”, signed by Gerardo Reyes, Colombian news media have focused their attention once again on the indigenous girls of Guaviare, particularly in trying to answer the question—still unanswered—of how it can be possible that the government continues to allow such cruelty.

Behind the initial indignation appeared the first statistics. The Colombian Institute for Family Welfare (ICBF) reported having registered 378 cases of sexual violence against indigenous children between 2018 and 2020. Immediately the Attorney General, Francisco Barbosa, said from San José del Guaviare that he would compare those numbers with the information system in his office, because if none of those cases were filed there, he would take legal action against ICBF officials for failing to report them.

The first problem is this: the statistics on sexual violence from different government entities are not in agreement at all. That means, it’s possible to say that there are cases of sexual violence that were detected eight days ago at a health center, but that the cases still have not reached authorities responsible for criminal investigations. That’s the start of the road to impunity.

While Forensic Medicine registered 17,106 cases of alleged sexual violence against children younger that 14 in 2022, the Attorney General’s Office in that time only filed 8,188 criminal charges against alleged sexual predators.

And that’s just the last part of the road. That means that most of the time, it’s much more painful for the victims.

At present, according to Resolution 459 of 2012 by the Minister of Health, if a child younger than 14 arrives at a hospital with signs of sexual violence, the treating physician must report the case to the public information systems known as Sivigila and Sivige. That information, which also feeds the data to ICBF, is to go to the Attorney General’s Office; but the report, which is periodic, doesn’t always generate the immediate investigation that would be expected, given the fact that it affects the constitutional rights of the boys and girls victimized.

According to sources consulted by CAMBIO, the information furnished by the systems doesn’t always set off an alarm with the ICBF officials responsible for redressing the victims’ rights, or with the prosecutors in charge of pursuing the aggressor promptly. Neither the one nor the other go to the hospital after receiving the report.  A prosecutor can wait for months before opening a formal investigation and that’s the road where many of the cases remain, reduced to a statistic.

“When someone tries to use the health system, a lot of things can happen. For example, if the health service doesn’t start the process, or it could be that they start it, but they never carry out the urgent steps (collection of evidence), or that they do carry out the urgent steps, but it doesn’t result in a criminal complaint,” says one of the sources who is very familiar with the procedures that apply in such cases.

These sources—whose names they prefer to keep confidential—explained to CAMBIO that what often happens is that there aren’t enough staff to investigate the sexual crimes against minor children. Thus, many prefer to prioritize the complaints that arrive through traditional mechanisms (Police Inspectors, law firms, prosecutors’ reception systems . . .) or the cases that make some noise, and not those where, on some occasions the victim or her caregiver don’t want to file a complaint.

The Criminal Code states that every sexual act involving a child younger than 14 constitutes sexual abuse, because, as the Constitutional Court has held, children do not have the capacity to consent to relationships of this kind. However—state the sources—not all pregnancies of girls younger than 14 are investigated. An example of that is that, in spite of the fact that Dane (National Administrative Department of Statistics) has reported that, between January 1 and October 31 of 2022, 3,500 babies were born to mothers younger than 14 in Colombia. There is no way to know, for now, how many of those cases managed to get to the Attorney General’s Office and how many did not; and less, how many of those cases were investigated and how many resulted in criminal charges. The numbers of criminal investigations and charges filed against the abuser are very different from the number of mothers who are younger than 14.

In an interview with La W for example, the Governor of Guaviare, Heydeer Palacio, said that there were no cases of pregnancies of girls younger than 14 in the Department. The reality is that, according to Dane, between January and October of 2022, there were 13 cases. Later, Palacio justified himself by explaining that his Secretary of Health had not informed him of those cases. This demonstrates the lack of articulation among the entities of the government in taking action in a coordinated manner.

“In many of the cases of mothers who are younger than 14, there have been no complaints, and neither have there been official investigations because the health system has reported the pregnancies or births immediately to the Dane, but not to the Attorney General’s Office or to the ICBF, arguing that that would violate the child’s privacy. Of course that’s ridiculous when you consider that under Colombian law, that girl is a crime victim,” said one of the sources.


That approach, and many other procedural difficulties are set forth in a document filed by the Attorney General’s Office with the Superior Council of Criminal Policy in 2019. It contained evidence of the lack of articulation between the investigating agency and the systems of health and education and ICBF, among others. It even mentions as a key point “the absence of an information-sharing system”.

“The sectors of health, education, and protection have information systems for the tasks of identification and monitoring of this kind violence, and they have the legal obligation to file a criminal complaint within 24 hours after learning of the events. (Statute 1146 of 2007). Nevertheless, there are not in all cases mechanisms for filing the complaint virtually, access to information needed to prepare the factual allegations about the crime, or to verify the inter-institutional activities necessary for handling the case completely. If there were such mechanisms and an information-sharing system, the revictimization by calling a boy or a girl several times by each of the differing government agencies, asking them to relate over and over a long-ago event that was very painful, could be avoided to some extent,” states the document that CAMBIO has seen.

The document also states that the boys and girls who are victims of sexual violence in rural areas are revictimized by the government because they can’t be cared for and their rights aren’t protected immediately.

“In scattered rural areas there is no permanent access or monitoring of services of health, protection, and justice. This makes real and prompt attention to the girls and boys difficult, in spite of the fact that it’s there where the population is found in the greatest condition of vulnerability. Additionally, because of the lack of access roads, absence of internet, and the high cost of travel and communication with those territories, the activities of prevention and care are almost entirely absent,” the document says.

The same document warns that, in many of the cases, because of the delays that exist among the entities in transmitting information about a child victim of sexual violence, the result is that when the prosecutors go to the clinic to collect the samples that serve as convincing proof in a criminal trial, often the samples can’t be used because they have deteriorated and have been stored poorly.

If that were not enough, the victims are not even informed of their rights. As cited in that same document, according to studies by Sivigila, at the National Institute of Health, only 37.2% of the girls victimized by an act of sexual violence that led to pregnancy had received, in 2016, a satisfactory description of the extent of their rights as enunciated in Decision C-355 of 2006, in which the Constitutional Court held that victimized girls had a right to request voluntary termination of their pregnancies.

“One of the problems resulting from the fact that all of these institutions manage statistics in a different manner is that they all act independently and none of their actions are articulated. The hospital reports to Sivigila and, if there are a lot of reports, it articulates with Family Welfare. For example, in 2019 there were 150 complaints reported to Family Welfare, but unfortunately only 86 ended in criminal charges, an average of 60%.

“ Many of the victims have had to be displaced; others had no chance to file a complaint because of the presence of armed groups. Others were abused by their fathers in rural areas, and nobody knows about those cases. The problem is rooted in the system’s lack of articulation; the Attorney General’s Office doesn’t find out immediately about cases that get to the health system and to ICBF. That lack of articulation leaves a large number of cases in impunity,” said the Governor of Guaviare, Heydeer Palacio.

That lack of articulation was expressed before the Superior Council of Criminal Policy in 2019 and now, nearly four years later, nothing has changed. There is no unified system, and the high officials keep repeating the same thing. The Minister of Justice, the President of the Criminal Branch of the Supreme Court of Justice, the Attorney General, the Minister of Education, the Inspector General, the National Director of Police, the Director of Inpec (National Penitentiary and Prison Institute), the Director of ICBF, at least two Senators and four Representatives of the Chamber, among other high officials of that time who make up the Superior Council of Criminal Policy; all have heard about these vacuums and still, they continue to be delinquent in paying attention to the one road, the road that, as we have seen, leads only to impunity.

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