AN AID worker who left the Central African Republic (CAR) last month has spoken of her concerns that children are being swept up in renewed violence, recruited as soldiers, or raped by armed groups.
World Vision UK’s senior child-rights policy adviser, Erica Hall, was in the capital, Bangui, on 26 September, when the murder of a young Muslim man resulted in reprisal attacks on a largely Christian neighbourhood.
The ensuring sectarian violence left 77 people dead and 400 injured, and displaced more than 48,000. The UN Mission to the country (MINUSCA) used force to repel armed groups (ex-Séléka or Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de Centrafrique) who had threatened to destabilise the capital. The offices of NGOs and the homes of their staff were looted, and more than 500 prisoners escaped from the Ngaragba prison, including “well-known perpetrators of human-rights violations and abuses”, a UN spokesman said.
Ms Hall escaped the violence through back roads, before crossing into the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she caught a flight back to the UK. On Monday, she expressed deep concern for the children “living in fear of violence every day”. World Vision reports that boys and girls as young as eight are being recruited as soldiers or raped by armed groups. Although some progress has been made this year in demobilising child soldiers, an earlier upsurge in violence resulted in a “huge increase” in their recruitment, and she expects the events of the past weeks to have the same effect.
“We have seen some children joining in vengeance because something has happened to them or their family, but we also see a lot of children who are joining because of levels of poverty: they are separated from families, or their family cannot afford to house them or feed them so there is a bit of desperation. Without school or anything to do, some end up joining.”
World Vision is working to tackle these risk factors, creating “safe space” for children and trying to reduce their vulnerability. It is the World Food Programme’s biggest partner in food distribution in the country, in which about 2.7 million people — more than half the population — are in urgent need of assistance. The charity is also involved in social-cohesion programmes, bringing together in dialogue religious leaders from different sides.
This month the secretary-general of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, said that “the need to bridge religious and communal divisions and find common ground, has never been more critical. . . Rebuilding, reconciling, and reforming a country that has been exposed to years of violent crises takes time.”
He condemned the use of violence to undermine the progress in the CAR during the past year, including the formation of the Bangui Forum on National Reconciliation and preparations for elections this year. Civilians needed “concrete reassurance that peace and stability in their country remain high on the international community’s agenda”, he said.
The Transitional Government has put a $202-million price tag on implementing its three priorities: disarming and demobilising ex-combatants; promoting justice and reconciliation; and good governance and economic development. About $85 million remains unfunded.