Bangui/Dakar/Geneva — UNICEF said today that it had received credible reports that rebel groups and pro-government militias are increasingly recruiting and involving children in armed conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR).
UNICEF calls for the immediate cessation of child recruitment by all armed groups in the CAR and urges all parties to protect children against the harmful impact of, and their involvement in, armed conflict in the country.
"A number of rebel groups and various pro-government militias have become more active in recent weeks in the capital city of Bangui and across the country," said Souleymane Diabate, UNICEF Representative for CAR. "Reliable sources have informed us that children are newly being recruited among their ranks. These reports are of serious concern."
"Our team on the ground is working with partners to monitor, verify, and respond to grave violations of child rights, including recruitment into armed groups. Those at greater risk are children who have lost their homes, are separated from their families or were formerly associated with armed groups," added Mr. Diabate.
As part of its reporting obligations to the United Nations Secretary-General and the Security Council, UNICEF is currently working with other UN agencies to monitor grave violations against children in CAR. This may include recruitment or use of children in armed forces and groups, sexual violence against children, attacks against schools or hospitals, killing or maiming of children, child abduction and denial of humanitarian access.
Even before conflict erupted in December 2012, about 2,500 children - both girls and boys - were associated with multiple armed groups, including self-defence groups, in CAR. While it is impossible to give a precise figure, reports indicate that this number will rise because of the recent and escalating conflict.
UNICEF is highly concerned about the harmful impact of conflict on children in the country and condemns the involvement of boys and girls below the age of 18 who may be forced to fight, carry supplies, perform other support roles and be abused as sex slaves by armed groups.
Since 2007, UNICEF has worked in CAR with both the government and rebel factions, in collaboration with non-governmental organizations, to secure the release of more than 1,000 girls and boys from armed groups and self-defence groups and support their reintegration into families and communities.
"Recent commitments under international law by the Government and some rebel groups to keep children out of the fighting must be respected," said Mr. Diabate in Yaounde, Cameroon. "All violations must stop. It is critical that everything is done to protect these children and keep their families safe."
The highly volatile security situation is also hampering the delivery of humanitarian assistance to affected communities and has led UNICEF to relocate 14 international staff and consultants last week. UNICEF has established an operational crisis centre for CAR in Yaounde, Cameroon. Through a team of national experts, UNICEF maintains a critical staff presence in the CAR and collaborates with a network of partners to continue emergency activities.
According to UNICEF, more than 300,000 children have already been affected by the violence in CAR and its consequences, including through recruitment, family separation, sexual violence, forced displacement and having no or limited access to education and health facilities.
The recruitment and use of children under the age of 18 by armed forces and armed groups is prohibited by international law, and constitutes a war crime and crime against humanity if the children who are recruited and used are under the age of 15.
As a signatory to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, the Central African Republic is accountable to ensure that no child is used by armed forces or armed groups in any way.
UNICEF's Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) appeal for emergency response in 2013 has so far only received US$500,000 out of a total request of US$11 million. Aside from emergencies, the UNICEF regular program for 2013 is only about 60% funded or US$7 million out of a planned amount of US$12 million.