As deadly violence escalates in Central African Republic, child endangerment has reached an alarmingly high level.
According to UNICEF, vicious attacks are now specifically waged against the young. Two children have been beheaded recently, while others, primarily Muslims, are purposefully shot and killed. UNICEF reported 16 specific incidents, since early December, in which children were directly targeted. On top of that, the number of child soldiers is steadily rising.
In what many people are calling a potential genocide, the outbreak of violence in CAR stems from the coup against former President Francis Bozize in March of last year. After Bozize was overthrown by the Seleka, an ‘alliance’ of predominately Muslim rebels. The antagonists were then given free reign to attack civilians and plunder the country. In response to mass murder and looting, which often targeted Christian communities, a counter force of Christian fighters, anti-balaka, took up arms against their Muslim adversaries. Fighting between the two factions has contributed to widespread killing and displacement. Although the death count is unknown, 935,000 civilians are displaced nationwide.
In this context, child suffering is not new, as a litany of dangers and side effects have affected children since the earliest clashes. In mid-December, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake commented on the tragic toll the violence has taken on child victims, saying, “The facts are right in front of us. 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.”
Among many grievances impacting the young are food insecurity and inaccessible medical treatment. As of December, over 1 million children lacked access to meals. Save the Children previously cited malaria and diarrhea as two very dangerous threats to children under age 5, and many sustain brutal injuries. While Doctors Without Borders has been instrumental in providing medical care, health centers are no longer immune to the fighting, and the group has recently been forced to scale back or cancel some assistance programs.
A joint effort by France, the European Union, and the United States is underway to provide assistance to the country. Through the Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA), European Union member states will send troops to protect civilians in the war-torn country, and the African Union (AU) will deploy people, as well, adding to the number of AU troops currently there. France has 1,600 of its own troops stationed in CAR, and the U.S. has also pledged $115 million in peacekeeping and humanitarian aid.