Voice of America (Washington, DC)

Central African Republic: Unicef - Children Brutalized in CAR

UNICEF says children are being brutalized in Central African Republic. It says at least 16 children have been killed since early December, including two beheadings.

Listen to De Capua report on children in CAR

Children in CAR have been both targeted and caught in the crossfire since the eruption of communal violence. Former Seleka rebels, who are Muslim, are battling Christian self-defense groups known as Anti-Balaka.

But Jean Lokenga, UNICEF's Chief of Child Protection in the country, said that kids have been vulnerable for more than a year.

"Children in Central African Republic have been very much affected by the armed conflict, which started last year in December. And then that led to the overthrow of the former regime in March in 2013. The conflict resumed in September -- and then now since the 5th of December in Bangui," he said.

The fighting that began over a year ago led to the overthrow of President Francois Bozize. Former Seleka rebel leader Michel Djotodia is now president, but has not been able to control ex-rebels, who were not incorporated into the army.

Lokenga said children have been affected in many ways.

"Some have been recruited and used in armed forces and groups. Others have been subjected to attacks. And others were either wounded or killed, either in a targeted way or stray bullet."

UNICEF has confirmed the beheadings of the two children.

Lokenga said, "These two children were not taking part in any conflict. They were only targeted because they were suspected to be part of the Anti-Balaka armed group, while these were children that were aged 9 and 10."

He said that they were just street children and not part of any armed group. UNICEF has also confirmed the mutilation of at least one child. However, the U.N. agency is trying to confirm more reports of brutality.

UNICEF is calling all warring parties to stop the recruitment of child soldiers - and to release those already in their ranks. In November, UNICEF received permission from the Ministry of Defense to have unconditional access to military barracks. If any children are found they would be removed. They would possibly undergo some counseling and training to help them reintegrate. However, plans to visit the military barracks were disrupted by fighting in December.

UNICEF has already helped thousands of children, including medical care, over the past year. It also plans to help them resume their education. The U.N. agency is also calling on fighters not to attack health and education personnel - and not use schools and hospitals for military purposes.

Lokenga said the agency is trying to contact all warring parties, but says currently there does not seem to be a main spokesperson for the Anti-Balaka groups.

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