On Friday, UNICEF reported that nearly two-thirds of schools in the Central African Republic (CAR) remain closed due to a brutal ongoing sectarian conflict that has displaced hundreds of thousands and left 2.2 million people in need of humanitarian aid.
Following a 2012 rebel-led coup, violence between the Christian anti-balaka and the Muslim Séléka armed groups has disrupted two years of school. A UNICEF survey of 355 schools in CAR found that one third had been attacked or occupied by armed groups. As a result, one in three children who attended school in the last year did not return this year.
"The situation for children is one of the worst in the world," Judith Léveillée, Deputy Representative at UNICEF Central African Republic, told MediaGlobal News. "There is not one community that has not been affected. Parents do not want to send their children to school, and teachers are not going back because their salaries are not being paid."
Despite its extensive natural resources, the landlocked CAR is one of the poorest countries in the world. In January, the United Nations reported that there are more than 6,000 child soldiers in the country. Last month, Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, declared the country's in-fighting a "massive ethno-religious cleansing."
In the last three months, at least 2,000 people have been murdered in the anti-balaka and Séléka clashes, even though 5,000 peacekeepers from the African Union and 2,000 from France are stationed in CAR.
"You look into the eyes [of children in CAR], and they are just lost. It's not just the violence, but the sheer brutality," Souleymane Diabate, UNICEF's Representative in Bangui, said at a UN press conference today. "It's a forgotten crisis."
Despite the escalating danger, UNICEF's education programs remain largely underfunded. Only 3 million of the 10 million dollars needed to rehabilitate the country's education system have been raised thus far.
"We call on all players to pay attention to what's happening in that heart of Africa, because we cannot afford to have another lost generation," Léveillée told MediaGlobal News.