Bangui — UNICEF and partners have secured the release of over 1,000 children from armed groups in the Central African Republic this year, more than five times the total number of children released in 2013.
However, thousands more children remain among the ranks of armed groups in the war-torn country. Since violence escalated in December last year, their estimated number nearly doubled from 3,500 to around 6,000.
"The growing number of children who continue to be used in this brutal fighting is yet another reminder of the unspeakable atrocities children are living every day," said Souleymane Diabaté, UNICEF Representative in Central African Republic. "Such blatant violations of children's rights must not go unpunished."
Children in Central African Republic have been used by all parties to the conflict not only as combatants, but also as cooks, porters and guards. Of the children released this year, 1 in 5 are girls.
"Many of these children have seen their siblings or parents killed in front of them and are miles away from their villages and families," Diabaté said. "Every single child we spoke to said they wanted to leave the armed group and return to school. We cannot fail them."
Working with partners, UNICEF supports children released from armed groups with a package of services that includes health care, psychosocial support, family tracing and reunification, and return to school. Older children are provided with accelerated learning and vocational training.
Funding, however, remains a constraint. UNICEF still needs $7.6 million to fund its work in child protection for the rest of this year.