Child soldier numbers soar amid conflict in Central African Republic

Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
e-mail icon

The number of child soldiers recruited by armed groups in the Central African Republic have quadrupled since the outbreak of a bloody civil war two years ago, a report says.

Up to 10,000 children, some as young as eight years old, are being forced to fight, carry supplies and perform other frontline roles compared to around 2500 at the beginning of the crisis in December 2012, the research by aid agency Save the Children has found.

Children recruited by armed groups often become victims of physical and mental abuse, and some have been ordered to kill or commit other acts of extreme violence.

"Many of these children have been through things no adult - let alone a child - should have to go through," said Julie Bodin, Save the Children's Child Protection Manager in Central African Republic. "Even if they leave the armed group or are released, these children can find themselves stigmatised, feared or rejected by their communities, and can struggle to re-enter 'normal' life after spending so long immersed in violence."

The Central African Republic has been beset by political instability since becoming an independent nation in 1960.

Armed conflict intensified in late 2012 when the Muslim-dominated Seleka rebel alliance marched on the capital Bangui and ousted president Francois Bozize in March 2013. The emergence of so-called "anti-balaka" militias, made up of Christians and others opposed to Seleka rule, has prolonged the violence.

"Countless children have suffered appallingly, and continue to suffer from the violence, which is ongoing despite a ceasefire agreement between the two factions in July 2014," says the report titled  Caught in a Combat Zone.

Extreme poverty and a dire lack of educational opportunities for children in the Central African Republic have contributed to the spike in children joining armed groups, effectively creating a huge reservoir of potential new recruits.

"Some were abducted or forced to join armed groups, while others – desperate for food, clothing, money or protection – felt they had no choice but to join to survive," the report said. "Others were pressured by peers or parents or wanted to avenge a relative who died."

Children recruited by armed groups are likely to suffer fear, anxiety, depression, grief and insecurity, and many require specialised psychological support. 

The report says that without "rapid and sustained interventions" many more children risk being recruited or re-recruited and those who are released from armed groups will be condemned to impoverishment.

"Further resources are urgently needed to rebuild these children's lives, and to re-establish and strengthen schools, which will help them thrive," Ms Bodin said. "This is essential not just for them but for the future of the country."

Source: The Age; Photo: Global Refuge