According to Colombia’s 2018 Violence against Children and Youth Survey, 15 percent of girls and eight percent of boys report having experienced sexual violence during their childhood. Colombia’s National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensics Sciences reported an average of 55 cases of sexual violence against children per day between 2015 and 2018; in 2019, the daily average rose to 118, signaling increased reporting or growing prevalence of child sexual abuse (CSA). Colombia has a range of protections for children, including its constitution, which establishes the rights of children and charges the government with their protection. This is complemented by numerous laws, including Law 1098 (2006)—the Code of Childhood and Adolescence—which “guarantees children and adolescents their full and harmonious development;” Law 1804 (2016), which assigns specific responsibilities to government entities for comprehensive early childhood care under the program “From Zero to Forever;” and the 2021 modification of Colombia’s penal code to remove the statute of limitations for sexual crimes committed against children and adolescents.
The Colombian Institute of Family Welfare (ICBF) has drafted key national strategic plans, such as the National Policy for Children and Adolescents 2018–2030, which seeks to foster an environment conducive to the comprehensive development of girls, boys, and adolescents, and the National Plan of Action against Violence toward Children and Adolescents in Colombia, 2021–2024, which includes specific objectives such as expanding the legal framework for protecting children’s rights, ensuring access to protection and care services, raising awareness, and strengthening institutional capacities to respond to violence. The ICBF shares responsibility for responding to and preventing CSA with numerous other ministries and government entities in Colombia, including the Attorney General, the Ministry of Justice and Law, the Ministry of Health and Social Protection, the Ministry of the Interior, the Colombian National Police, the Ministry of National Education, and the Presidential Council for Children and Adolescents, among others.
As the key institution responsible for preventing and responding to CSA in Colombia, the ICBF’s budgetary allocations are paramount to understanding Colombia’s commitment to addressing CSA in the country. The ICBF’s budget rose from COP 6.6 trillion in FY 2019 to COP 8.6 trillion in FY 2023, a 29.4 percent expansion over five years. The vast majority of these funds—COP 5.1 trillion, or 59.4 percent of the institute’s total budget in FY 2023—goes toward “Support for comprehensive early childhood development at the national level,” but CSA is not explicitly called out within any of the ICBF’s funding categories. However, several are directly relevant to the issue, including line items regarding “protection of children and adolescents,” “strengthening families,” and particularly “strengthening the SNBF,” the country’s protection system. The National Family Welfare System (SNBF) constitutes the ICBF’s nationwide program for providing comprehensive protection to girls, boys, and adolescents, as well as supporting families. However, the only SNBF-specific category—“Strengthening the SNBF to support the framework to protect children, adolescents, and their families at the national level”—accounts for a tiny portion of the institute’s overall budget, at just 0.2 percent, and has remained stagnant across the FY 2019 through FY 2023 budgets. None of the budget lines mentions violence (sexual or otherwise) or alludes to abuse, including CSA.
ICBF Full Budget
The ICBF publishes national-level strategic documents that lay out the landscape for supporting children’s rights as well as for addressing violence against children directly. For example, the National Plan of Action against Violence toward Children and Adolescents in Colombia, 2021–2024 includes a detailed depiction of the various ministries that play roles in realizing the plan’s goals, as seen through seven core components. (See Figure 2). However, there is no parallel budgetary information to clarify the relative importance of these bodies and their contributions to countering CSA. Moreover, Ángela Carreño, executive director of Children Change Colombia, noted that the ICBF faces challenges from changing leadership, as each presidential election results in a new appointed director, as well as changes to budget priorities: “Every time there’s a change of president, the director of the ICBF is appointed directly by the president. We don’t know what will happen after. That makes it really difficult to implement any process.”
Government Areas of Responsibility within the National Plan of Action
The absence of specific budgetary data as a part of these strategic plans makes it complicated to track CSA-relevant spending beyond the ICBF. There are several government ministries and bodies that stand out as major contributors, yet the budgets for these entities generally do not include specific details relevant to programming to prevent and respond to CSA. For the most part, the lack of clarity in spending is due to budget categories that are not always issue-specific, which obscures contributions to CSA or other priorities. Drawing upon annual budget laws, Figure 3 demonstrates budget lines at the national level within the pertinent ministries that, while likely relevant to CSA, do little to illuminate the scale or nature of such commitments. Priorities such as “Effectiveness of criminal investigation” and “Promotion of access to justice” are both relevant, but the extent to which these specifically address CSA is unclear. And while both show strong growth from FY 2019 to FY 2023—growing by 315 percent and 318 percent, respectively—there is no way to tell how relevant that growth actually is for addressing CSA.
Select CSA-Relevant Spending Lines from Various Government Entities
Data Source: National budgets FY 2019, FY 2020, FY 2021, FY 2022, FY 2023.
Note: Colombia publishes its annual national budget—called the “Ley de Presupuesto,” or “Budget Law”—via the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit. This document typically runs about 100 pages and offers only the highest level of programmatic detail within each government department. Extended versions of the annual budget laws can be found for certain years, which run up to 400 pages and contain detailed information for every government body’s programs and subprograms. In most cases, this information exactly matches the annual budgets that ministries publish on their own websites. Given the intermittent availability of such extended budget law documents, this analysis sticks to the shortened budget laws published by the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit and the detailed budget documents found on each ministry’s respective website.
A similar pattern emerges when examining these ministries’ more detailed budgets: granular information is often available on ministerial websites, but it does little to illuminate contributions that are specific to CSA. Within the annual general budget for the Attorney General, there are specific funding lines for protecting individuals from violent situations, strengthening forensic laboratory capacity, and modernizing tools for criminal investigation—none of which is specific to violence against children, child protection, or CSA but nonetheless may benefit those issues. (See Figure 4.) Likewise, the national-level police budget lacks the detail needed to parse out CSA-specific contributions. For example, the FY 2023 budget does not specify spending related to intervening in instances of violence against children, including allocations to its Protection Group for Children and Adolescents, which handles child protection cases. Overall, the ministry-specific budgets for the Ministries of Health and Social Protection, Justice and Law, the Interior, and National Education do not specify contributions relevant to CSA at any consistent level.
Colombia’s government has put in place essential pieces of a comprehensive national response to CSA and empowered the ICBF to lead various aspects of the country’s overall response via a rapidly expanding budget that grew by 29.4 percent between FY 2019 and FY 2023. However, even with a growing budget and various national plans in place, many Colombian children are not receiving the protection they need. As Àngela Carreño, of Children Change Colombia, noted: “There’s no support for the victims. If they have the courage to report, they need economic support, not just legal support to help them while they are in the process, right? Literally, where will you go after you’ve reported? There’s nowhere to go stay, no one, if you’re a child, to feed you.”
“There’s no support for the victims. If they have the courage to report, they need economic support, not just legal support to help them while they are in the process, right? Literally, where will you go after you’ve reported? There’s nowhere to go stay, no one, if you’re a child, to feed you.”
Àngela Carreño, Executive Director of Children Change Colombia
National strategies, such as the National Plan of Action against Violence toward Children and Adolescents in Colombia, 2021–2024, do well to map out responsibilities for responding to violence against children, from ministries to consultative bodies to civil society organizations. However, a lack of sufficient detail in the budgets of relevant government entities makes further evaluation of Colombia’s efforts exceedingly difficult. For example, the forty-one-page National Policy for Children and Adolescents, 2018–2030 devotes just a single page—six sentences—to describing the financing for the policy; this page contains no specific figures and instead offers a general description of Colombia’s budget. The detailed versions of ministerial budgets, while replete with programs and subprograms, are not conducive to identifying contributions to specific end goals, such as fighting CSA. In the ICBF’s case, none of the budget items mentions violence against children specifically, let alone CSA, and instead reference broader goals, like protecting rights and enabling social development. While there is a clear emphasis on protecting and raising awareness about the rights of children, Colombia would benefit from publishing a parallel budget breakdown that tracks financial commitments across the numerous entities involved.