(Photo: Gobernacion Antioquia)

Children in Colombia’s northern state of Antioquia are learning how to read with the help of a comic leaflet that teaches them how to avoid stepping on landmines and other explosives, according to the local government.

The leaflet, used in reading lessons for children in primary school, adresses one of the many lingering concerns facing rural Colombia as a consequence of the country’s decades-long armed conflict.

“It’s a shame that our children have to learn how to read in a book that teaches them where to walk to avoid stepping on a landmine. This hurts and is the cruelest expression of what violence means,” Antioquia Governor Sergio Fajardo was quoted as saying in a government press release.

While Colombia has signed on to the most prominent international accord prohibiting the use of landmines, hidden explosives are still used throughout the country, particularly by armed insurgent groups such as the FARC.

The devices, buried in fields and trails to slow military advances, are left unattended and unmarked long past their original purpose, and children playing in those areas are frequently killed or maimed in accidental explosions.

Antioquia is the state with the highest incident rate in the country, and Fajardo called on the rebel groups still active in the countryside to reveal the locations of already installed mines, stressing that the topic of landmines should be included in the agenda for ongoing peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC, the country’s oldest rebel group.

The removal of lands mines, said Fajado, is a necessary step in moving past the violence that has gripped his state for decades and promoting the government’s more forward-thinking goals of “intelligence and decency” in society.

“We want a decent, creative and intelligent Antioquia where we don’t have to publish this kind if leaflet, but leaflets that teach how to grow in life, how all children of a just society are supposed to grow up.”

The leaflet was produced in a combined effort by the government of Antioquia, UNICEF ​and the Presidential Program for Comprehensive Action against Antipersonnel Mines (PAICMA) and will reportedly be re-launched next year in a new edition. It is unclear, however, whether plans exist to use the comic in other school districts.

According to a PAICMA report released previously this year, there have been close to 40,000 documented incidents involving landmines in Colombia since 1990.

The large majority of those incidents involved defective mines that did not detonate, but explosions have still left 10,519 documented victims as of August 31, 2013.

MORE: Report breaks down 23 years of landmines in Colombia



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