Bangui/Dakar/Geneva — Attacks against children have sunk to a vicious new low, with at least two children beheaded, and one of them mutilated, in the violence that has gripped the capital since early December.
"We are witnessing unprecedented levels of violence against children. More and more children are being recruited into armed groups, and they are also being directly targeted in atrocious revenge attacks," said Souleymane Diabate, UNICEF Representative in CAR.
"Targeted attacks against children are a violation of international humanitarian and human rights law and must stop immediately. Concrete action is needed now to prevent violence against children," Diabate said.
UNICEF and partners have verified the killings of at least 16 children, and injuries among 60, since the outbreak of communal violence in Bangui on 5 December.
Diabate said that armed elements were accountable for taking specific measures to provide this crucial protection to children. These included:
Clear directives by those in positions of authority within armed forces and groups to halt grave violations against children. The orders must make clear that children must not be recruited into the fighting, nor targeted.
The immediate release of children associated with armed forces and groups, and their protection from reprisals. Transit centers set up for the release and reintegration of children must also be protected from attacks.
Prohibiting attacks against health and education personnel, and the use of civilian spaces such as schools and hospitals for military purposes.
Allowing safe, unhindered passage of impartial humanitarian assistance.
Some 370,000 people - almost half the population in Bangui - have been displaced to dozens of displacement sites across the capital over the past three weeks. Around 785,000 people have been internally displaced throughout the country since the outbreak of violence over a year ago.
UNICEF is scaling up relief efforts among displaced communities, including the provision of safe water, sanitation facilities and medical supplies, and setting up safe spaces for children.