Francine Uenuma 202.450.9153 (M)
Fairfield, Conn. (Dec. 18, 2014) - Just two years after the outbreak of bloody civil war in the Central African Republic (CAR) in December 2012, the number of girls and boys under the age of 18 recruited by armed groups has escalated to four times its previous level.
An estimated 6,000 to 10,000 children are currently members of armed groups, compared to around 2,500 at the beginning of the crisis.
Some were abducted or forced to join armed groups, while others joined voluntarily in order to survive when they found themselves in desperate need of food, clothing, money and protection. Many also joined because of pressure from peers or parents, a desire to protect their community, or to avenge dead parents or relatives.
Children, some as young as eight years old, are forced to fight, carry supplies, and perform other frontline and support roles. They are often victims of physical and mental abuse by militants, and some have been ordered to kill or commit other acts of violence.
"Every morning we trained hard, crawling through the mud. The soldiers wanted to make us mean, unforgiving”, says Grâce à Dieu* who joined an armed group in December 2012 at the age of 15.
"When we fought, it was us, the children, who were often sent to the frontline. Others stayed further behind. I saw many of my brothers-in-arms killed while we were fighting. I saw many things, many atrocities.”
Having witnessed or committed killings and other acts of extreme violence for months, or even years, children associated with armed groups are highly likely to suffer fear, anxiety, depression, grief, and insecurity, and many require specialized psychological support.
"Many of these children have been through things that no adult, let alone child, let alone child, should have to go through, witnessing the loss of loved ones, seeing their homes destroyed, and surviving in harsh and insecure conditions in the bush for months," says Julie Bodin, Save the Children’s Child Protection Manager in CAR. "Even if they leave the armed group or are released, these children can find themselves stigmatized, feared or rejected by their communities, while they can struggle to re-enter 'normal' life after being so long immersed in violence.”
Extreme poverty, coupled with the dire lack of access to education for young children and employment opportunities for older children, all contribute to the spike in children joining armed groups, effectively creating a huge reservoir of potential new recruits.
Two years after the outbreak of the latest conflict, and three months into MINUSCA’s mandate, the CAR Government, MINUSCA, UN agencies and troop contributing countries and donors, must scale up their efforts to prevent child recruitment and demobilize children. Rapid and sustained interventions must also include specialized support to help children recover and reintegrate into their communities.
"Further resources are urgently needed to rebuild these children’s lives, and to rebuild and strengthen the institutions, such as schools, which will help them thrive. This is essential not just for them but for the future of the country,” Bodin said.
While the situation remains volatile in many parts of the country, Save the Children provides specialized psychological support for children associated with armed groups, as well children who have witnessed crimes or other acts of violence, through Child Friendly Spaces and Youth Networks. The agency also facilitates demobilized children to return to school.
How to Help
Please give generously to support Save the Children's response to the Central African Republic Children's Relief Fund. Visit www.savethechildren.org/CAR to donate online.
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