Colombia Social Condition Facts

Social conditions

Welfare is unevenly distributed in Colombia. The gaps between rich and poor are among the largest in the world. In the cities of the highlands, it is generally better than in the countryside. In the big cities, the differences are also clear. A large number of street children survive through begging, petty crime and prostitution.

According to official figures, the proportion of poor people has dropped from half the population around the turn of the millennium to just over a quarter of 2017. This means that several million people have left poverty. The proportion of extremely poor people has dropped from almost 18 percent to just over 7 percent. But the regional differences are large and mainly in the countryside there are still many suffering from malnutrition, poor housing, diseases and illiteracy.

Colombia is one of the world’s most violent countries, mainly because of the civil war and the drug mafia. Over the years, millions of Colombians have been forced to flee their homes because of the conflict, but remain within the country’s borders. For a number of years, the country had the highest number of internal refugees in the world (now Syria has more). The state has an obligation to provide refugees, but in practice the aid is slow and many of them live in misery. Anyone forced to flee because of threats and violence from the military or paramilitary was not considered by law as an internal refugee until the Constitutional Court changed it in a ruling in 2013.

colombia population

However, in recent years, violence has decreased and big cities such as Bogotá, Medellín and Cali are buzzing with commerce in the days and nightlife in the evenings, whereas in the past they were more or less closed down after dark. Traveling has increased on the roads where kidnappings and robberies were previously imminent risks. The countryside is also safer.

Colombia has had a mandatory social security system since the 1970s, including pensions, sickness benefits and unemployment benefits for employees and self-employed people. It is financed jointly by the state, employers and employees. Health care should in principle be free of charge for poor groups. But access is limited, especially in the countryside.

Gays, bisexuals and transgender people (LGBT people) have gained legal success, including a joint venture that gives gays the right to inherit their partner. In practice, there is great opposition from the Catholic Church and other conservative and traditional forces. However, the Constitutional Court ruled in 2015 that same-sex couples have the same right to adopt as heterosexual couples. A year later, Colombia legalized same-sex marriage. Thus, the country became the fourth (after Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil) in South America to allow gay couples to marry.

After the 2018 election, 15 percent of the elected members of the House of Representatives are women, and 30 percent of the senators. According to the law, women must receive at least 30 percent of all higher positions appointed by the government.

Colombia is a traditionally male-dominated society. The man is regarded as the head of the family and is considered to be responsible for maintaining the family’s honor and position. This machismo culture is weakening in cities where more and more women have prominent positions and well-paid jobs, but it lives on in rural areas. Violence against women is common, and human trafficking is widespread, as is sexual exploitation of children.

Since 2006, abortion has been permitted if the woman’s life is in danger, if the fetus is not viable or if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. In practice, resistance from conservative forces, not least within the Catholic Church, is an obstacle in these cases as well.


Infant Mortality: 12 per 1000 births (2018)

Percentage of HIV infected: 0.4 percent (2018)

Proportion of HIV infected among young women

0.1 percent (2018)

Proportion of HIV infected among young men: 0.1 percent (2018)

Proportion of population with access to clean water: 96.5 percent (2015)

Proportion of the population having access to toilets: 89.6 percent (2017)

Public expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP: 6.2 percent (2015)

Public expenditure on health care per person: $ 340 (2016)

Proportion of women in parliament: 18 percent (2018)



New demonstrations with release requirements

Tens of thousands of Colombians are demonstrating in many parts of the country to demand that Farc release the people he still holds.


Farc prisoners killed

The guerrillas kill four soldiers who have been held hostage for over twelve years. This happens when the government army approaches the guerrilla base in the Caqueta region.

Educational reform is withdrawn

After continuing student protests against plans to partially privatize higher education, Congress is withdrawing its proposal. The students have been inspired by similar protests in Chile.

Farc’s leader killed, new leader appointed

Alfonso Cano is killed in a firefight with the army (see also May 2008). His death is seen as a great success for President Santos. The guerrilla quickly appoints a successor: Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, who goes by the cover name Timochenko.


Security service is discontinued

Santos decides to close the DAS security service after all the scandals (see February 2011). A new organization, ANI (Agencia Nacional de Inteligencia), is to be formed and responsible to the President.

Municipal elections are held

Violence has increased in connection with the municipal elections, some 40 candidates or possible candidates have been killed since the election process began in February. About 300,000 soldiers and police are deployed to protect voters. In Bogotá, Gustavo Petro, former leader of the M19 guerrilla, wins the mayor’s election with promises of zero tolerance against corruption. Petro is lining up for the newly formed Colombian progressive movement.


Ex-spy boss convicted

The Supreme Court sentenced former spy boss Jorge Noguera to 25 years in prison for, among other things, cooperating with paramilitary death patrols. Another 20 agents have been sentenced to prison.


Changes in the defense line

Santos replaces several leading military – the army, the navy and the air force get new commanders – and the army receives extra funding.

Farcattacks against the oil industry

Farc sets fire to oil transport and blasts a warehouse near the Venezuela border, where a thousand barrels of oil are estimated to be wasted. Despite many setbacks, guerrillas are more active than for several years, with an increasing number of attacks on both civilians and military. Farc seems to have reverted to more traditional guerrilla tactics and is also said to be recruiting new members.


Giant protests against the government

Hundreds of thousands of students and trade unionists gather for large demonstrations against the government. The students oppose that the state universities receive private money. Trade unions require measures to reduce unemployment and efforts to reduce violence against union activists.