Bangui/Darkar — One hundred and three children age 8 to 17 were released over the past week from armed groups in Bangui following negotiations with armed group leaders.
The 103 children, 13 of whom are girls, were associated with the anti-Balaka armed groups operating mainly in Bangui and in the western part of CAR, who took up arms in retaliation for attacks from ex-Seleka forces in the last year and a half of violence.
"As the conflict continues, the number of children being used in armed groups has increased dramatically," said Souleymane Diabaté, UNICEF Representative in Central African Republic. "Recruitment of children into conflict is a grave violation of child rights, and these children have witnessed a level of violence that no child should ever have to experience."
Eleven of the 103 children are unaccompanied and remain separated from their families. After a thorough verification process by child protection specialists, these particularly vulnerable children are being sheltered at a UNICEF-supported centre in the capital. The centre is run by the Italian NGO COOPI and provides immediate care and psychosocial support to the children, tracing their family members so they can be reunified and preparing the children to be reintegrated back into their communities.
The children who are already reunited with their families or relatives, will benefit from a drop in centre in their neighbourhood, also run by COOPI, with support from UNICEF. Children visiting this centre will have access to recreational activities, psychosocial support, and warm meals. UNICEF is also working to ensure children are enrolled in school once they return to their communities.
"Our strategy is to set up services where the children and their families live, so that they can begin the process of recovery right away and have options outside of the armed group," added Diabaté.
UNICEF works with all parties to the conflict to verify, release, and reunify children with their families. Since January 2014, UNICEF and partners have secured the release of 1388 children associated with armed forces and groups in the Central African Republic, of whom 285 are girls. This is more than four times the total number of children released in 2013.
While UNICEF lauds this positive development, it remains concerned about the thousands of children who are associated with armed groups in the Central African Republic, which could be as high as 10,000 according to latest estimates.
This year UNICEF has appealed for $81 million to fund its response to the ongoing humanitarian emergency in CAR. Halfway through the year, only 41 per cent has been received.