Central African Republic Up to 6000 Child Soldiers

United Nations Image of Child Soldiers
United Nations Image of Child Soldiers

Central African Republic Sees Child Soldiers and Sex Slavery

GENEVA – The closest most Canadian children get to fighting in a war is a snowball fight. However according to the United Nations, there are likely more than 6,000 child soldiers who may be involved in the conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR). Many of these child soldier, and reportedly their numbers are continuing to grow are fighting in the war in the CAR.

Fighting in the CAR is escalating as elections are set to be held in the increasingly dangerous country.

Their numbers, report the United Nations are growing. The fighting is pitting community against community in clashes that have taken on increasingly sectarian overtones.

Child Soldiers - Photo: Gabriel Galwak/IRIN
Child Soldiers – Photo: Gabriel Galwak/IRIN

The news comes as sectarian violence pitting Christians against Muslims has broken out in the country. The International Red Cross is reporting that gangs of Christians have murdered two Muslims in the increasingly violent clashes.

Fresh intercommunal violence has flared in western and north-western parts of the Central African Republic. Since Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Central African Red Cross Society have been administering first aid and have taken 25 seriously injured people to hospital in the capital, Bangui.

Much of the population, in danger of reprisals and with no-one to protect them, have fled their homes and are hiding in the bush. The ICRC is extremely concerned about their welfare. “The ICRC calls on the authorities and on the international armed forces present in the country to take immediate action to end the intercommunal violence,” said Georgios Georgantas, head of the organization’s delegation in the Central African Republic. “We also call on all those who have armed themselves to respect human life and dignity and to facilitate both Red Cross access to the victims and its activities to assist them.”

Young Girls Forced into Sexual Slavery

The recruitment of these young people into fighting is happening on all sides. The driving forces that are bringing in the child soldiers are poverty, despair, desire for revenge, and the general lack of options for children in the CAR.

Sadly too there have been many reports of girls being used as sex slaves, according to Marixie Mercado, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) spokesperson.

Twenty-three children between 14 and 17 years old were released from armed groups in Bangui on Thursday, with many more identified for release in the coming days.

The children released Thursday, six of whom are girls, were taken from a military base to a UNICEF-supported Transit and Orientation Centre.

Thousands Dead, One Million Homeless

Thousands of people in CAR are estimated to have been killed, nearly 1 million driven from their homes, and 2.2 million, about half the population, need humanitarian aid in a conflict which erupted when mainly Muslim Séléka rebels launched attacks a year ago, and has recently taken on increasingly Muslim versus Christian overtones as militias known as anti-balaka (anti-machete), who are mainly Christians, take up arms.

United Nations Working to Free Children

The children’s release is the result of negotiations between UN representatives and the transitional authorities to allow unimpeded access to all military bases in the country so that children found among the ranks of the ex-Seleka /national forces can be released to child protection actors.

“Renewed fighting in September and December 2013 put children at much higher risk of recruitment,” said Souleymane Diabaté, UNICEF Representative in CAR. “Violence and insecurity make children more vulnerable to recruitment, particularly if they are separated from their families, displaced from their homes or have limited access to basic services and education. Sometimes their grief over the loss of parents or siblings is also exploited.”