Upwards of 2.3 million children have suffered due to the ongoing conflict in Central African Republic according to UNICEF – and there seems to be no end in sight.
Since last March, when former President Francois Bozize was overthrown in a coup, and 20,000 rebels initiated large-scale violence, civil unrest has plagued the CAR, home to 4.6 million people. Both the Seleka, an alliance comprised of a diverse group of predominately Muslim rebels, and the anti-balaka armed group that took up weapons against them have contributed to the displacement and murder of 390,000 Central Africans thus far. While 600 deaths were cited as the death toll two weeks ago, a more up-to-date tally has yet to be determined as fighting continues. As of August, 100,000 children were among those forcibly removed from their homes, while an unresolved number have died.
“The facts are right in front of us,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a statement. “This vicious conflict is now affecting 2.3 million children. Children are being killed because they are Christian or Muslim. Children are being forced to flee their homes and hide in terror to avoid the fighters. Children are witnessing horrific acts of violence. Children are being recruited into armed groups – possibly as many as 6,000. These brutal attacks on children are an affront to humanity.”
Numerous sources document humanitarian concerns threatening child victims. Food insecurity is one of the gravest dangers, as the World Food Programme reported 1.1-1.3 million citizens lack access to meals. Doctors Without Borders, which has provided medical services for the ill and wounded in CAR, predicts future deaths among starving children. Those under the age of 5 are particularly susceptible to malaria and diarrhea, and many have severe injuries. Moreover, UNICEF revealed that 70 percent of the nations’s children were unable to attend school, and 65 percent of schools were unusable – due to “[looting], [occupation], or [damage].”
In addition to health threats, children are increasingly pulled into the violent activity. Recruitment of children by Seleka and anti-balaka fighters is a common trend, with 6,000 child soldiers currently immersed in the fighting. They are also used as human shields, as discussed in a report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The United Nations recently approved the Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA), under which the African Union will deploy an increased number of troops to defend civilians. European Union members will also send soldiers to CAR as the bloodshed continues, joining the roughly 1,600 French soldiers currently stationed there. So far the United States has not devoted forces on the ground but has donated assets worth $60 million to aid the African Union mission.