Recruitment is happening on all sides, with reasons including poverty, despair, desire for revenge, and the general lack of options for children, and there have been many reports of girls being used as sex slaves, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) spokesperson Marixie Mercado told a news briefing in Geneva, stressing her agency’s efforts to free all child soldiers.
Thousands of people in CAR are estimated to have been killed, nearly 1 million driven from their homes, and 2.2 million, about half the population, need humanitarian aid in a conflict which erupted when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels launched attacks a year ago, and has recently taken on increasingly Muslim versus Christian overtones as militias known as anti-balaka (anti-machete), who are mainly Christians, take up arms.
Ms Mercado said 23 children aged between 14 and 17 years were released from armed groups in Bangui, the capital, yesterday, with many more identified for release in the coming days, after an agreement between UN officials and the transitional authorities to allow unimpeded access to all military bases so that children with the ex-Seleka/national forces can be released to child protection actors.
The children, who include six girls, have been taken from a military base to a UNICEF-supported Transit and Orientation Centre. Since last May, UNICEF and its partners have secured the release of 229 children associated with various armed groups in CAR.
The number of child soldiers is believed to have risen considerably due to the recent escalation in fighting and the emergence of self-defence groups such as the anti-balaka, mounting from 2,000 before the current wave of clashes to more than 6,000 now.
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