Twenty-three children between 14 and 17 years old were released from armed groups in Bangui on Thursday, with many more identified for release in the coming days.
The children released Thursday, six of whom are girls, were taken from a military base to a UNICEF-supported Transit and Orientation Centre.
The children's release is the result of negotiations between UN representatives and the transitional authorities to allow unimpeded access to all military bases in the country so that children found among the ranks of the ex-Seleka /national forces can be released to child protection actors.
"Renewed fighting in September and December 2013 put children at much higher risk of recruitment," said Souleymane Diabaté, UNICEF Representative in CAR. "Violence and insecurity make children more vulnerable to recruitment, particularly if they are separated from their families, displaced from their homes or have limited access to basic services and education. Sometimes their grief over the loss of parents or siblings is also exploited."
This last year of chronic crisis in CAR has spiraled into a complex protection and humanitarian emergency, with brutal consequences for children. The number of recruited children is believed to have risen considerably due to the escalation in fighting and the emergence of self-defence groups such as the anti-balaka. Although volatile security conditions make it extremely difficult for child protection actors to verify exact numbers, UNICEF estimates that the current number could be as high as 6,000.
"There is no place for children in armed conflict and we are greatly encouraged by this collaboration with the transitional authorities to return children to their childhoods," Diabaté said. "In Bangui and around the country, UNICEF is working with all parties to the conflict to verify, release, and reunify children with their families. We are encouraged by this collaboration with the transitional authorities and continue to work with all parties for the release of all children without delay."
The 23 children are now at a UNICEF-supported Transit and Orientation Centre that provides basic education, sports, vocational and life skills along with psychosocial support while the children's families are traced and reintegration within their communities is prepared.
Since May 2013, UNICEF and partners have secured the release of 229 children associated with armed groups and forces in the Central African Republic.