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'Children bear the brunt of violence'

Manasi GopalakrishnanDecember 18, 2014

Thousands of children have been killed, raped and recruited as child soldiers in the Central African Republic, a new Save the Children report says. Armed groups use the children as porters, couriers and sexual slaves.

Child soldiers on the rise in Central African Republic
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A.Ufumeli

An estimated 2.3 million children were affected by the latest conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR), where opposing militia conscripted nearly 10,000 children as combatants, porters and for sexual purposes, authors of the international organization Save the Children said in their latest report called

Emphasizing an "urgent need to demobilize children from armed groups" in the CAR, the document described the "appalling suffering" of children who were caught in the ongoing feud between two factions - the Muslim-dominated Seleka groups and opposing Christian and animist militias, known as the Anti-Balaka forces. Both factions were responsible for grave violations against civilians.

Who is a child soldier?

Any person below 18 years who is a member of an armed group and is used in any capacity, including- but not limited to- cooks, porters and messengers, as well as anyone who is sexually exploited or accompanying the group is considered a child soldier, according to the .

"Caught in a combat zone" describes how armed conflict creates situations where children, willingly or unwillingly, take up arms. Some are abducted and some are lured because they seek protection, food, clothes and money. Armed groups often seek out young members in camps for displaced people and teenage boys with no work and no school to go often get lured into the trap.

The report cited the example of 17-year-old former child soldier Maeva, who said that took up arms to avenge her rape and her aunt's killing by an armed group. Once she was in, Maeva realized she was "strong" and that others listened to her.

The youngest soldiers were 10 years old, going up to 15, she said. They fought with the militia sometimes, but were mostly used as couriers and for errands. Maeva said if she could find a job, she'd "go back to school and get out of the group," but she needed something to do.

Conscripting children into the militia in CAR, a former French colony, was a "well-established pattern" even before the latest conflict in CAR, Save the Children says. In 2012, around 2,500 children were associated with armed groups linked to President Francios Bozize.