The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called on the Central African Republic to stop child recruitment by rebel groups and pro-government militias. The UN agency says the recent conflict is to blame.
According to UNICEF, about 2,500 children, both girls and boys, were associated with armed groups in the Central Africa Republic, even before the latest violence broke out between the government and a rebel alliance known as Seleka. The Central African Republic has a history of political instability. DW spoke to Shannon Strother, UNICEF's Emergency Coordinator in Bangui.
DW: Where does your information come from and how many children are we talking about?
Shannon Strother: Right now we don't have exact numbers, but we have received credible reports from a variety of different international and national partners regarding the current recruitment of children into armed groups by not only the rebel groups but also the pro-government militia. In addition to that, there are reports of children formerly associated with these armed groups being re-recruited.
Have you been able to engage the government and the other concerned groups in addressing the issue of involving children in this ongoing conflict between the two sides?
Absolutely, prior to the current conflict we worked closely with the government of CAR, but also with the armed groups regarding the recruitment of children and also the release of children that have been associated with these armed groups either as combatants, hoarders, cooks or sex slaves. We have been working with them for years and will continue to work with them now and continue to advocate and encourage them to respect their engagement with UNICEF not to recruit children into their groups and to release those that remain in their ranks.
How much awareness is there in the Central African Republic on the evils of child recruitment itself?
I think that there is a large understanding in the Central African Republic by both the armed groups and the government regarding our concerns for the recruitment of children into these armed groups. Again, many of these children are taken by force, some as young as 9-10 years old. We are very concerned when these children are taken from their homes and are not allowed to be children. So we work closely with them to make sure that we don't have further recruitment, but again we have children that are currently in the ranks, so UNICEF and our partners support them in the process of returning to childhood.
At the end of the whole process of negotiations between the two sides, what are the challenges that lie ahead for these children to be reintegrated back to the society?
Obviously we are very concerned with the renewed fighting that we have seen most recently in CAR. We are very concerned what the impact might be regarding the integration of these children into their communities. Already there are challenges that exist on reintroducing these children not only to their families, but also their community because of the unique circumstances that they once had. They were recruited into the armed groups and certainly, in an environment of current conflict where people are particularly stressed and are particularly scared, it becomes a bigger challenge to reassure communities that these are simply their children and that they are ready to become part of their communities again. So, we look to community leaders to help facilitate that reintegration. We have a very strong partnership with a variety of local and national non-governmental organizations and also civil societies and leaders within communities, where we have seen recruitment of children traditionally taking place, and we work with them closely to make sure that there is an environment that is safe and secure for these children to return to being children in their families and communities.
Shannon Strother is the Emergency Coordinator for UNICEF in the Central African Republic.
Interview: Isaac Mugabi