Three hundread and fifty-seven children were released by armed groups in the Central African Republic in a deal brokered by the United Nations under which thousands of children used as soldiers, messengers, cooks or servants may be freed. The children, aged between 8 and 18, were released last week in three separate ceremonies. The Central African Republic has seen sectarian engagement between Muslim and Christian populations although the release of children held by the groups may be seen as an important development in the country.
CAR has seen sectarian events since March 2013 when the predominantly Muslim Seleka alliance took the capital, Bangui, and installed the country’s first Muslim president, Michel Djotodia. The events led to the passing of thousands as the Seleka and the Christian anti-balaka (anti-machete) fought, both of these groups released children in the three ceremonies. Earlier this month the UN’s child agency, UNICEF, helped CAR’s ten armed groups to agree to a deal which may lead to the release of the 6,000 to 10,000 thought to be connected with the various groups in the country. Reportedly, some of the children joined voluntarily due to the recent events in the country.
UNICEF runs a host of programmes aiming to improve the quality of life for children in CAR. The organisation has provided immunisation to children to protect them from preventable conditions, as well as providing necessities such as mosquito nets to reduce cases of Malaria. According to the UNICEF website, the aims for their activity in CAR might lead to the provision of: psychosocial activities to 100,000 affected children and educational opportunities to 60,000 children and to give over a million people basic health services and medicines amongst other improvements. UNICEF aims to raise $73.9m for CAR which may allow it to continue to fund its campaigns and reach the organisation’s goals.
The children, following their release, were provided with medical screenings and then offered the opportunity to see social workers. Those with families may be reunited if it is safe whereas foster carers are to be provided to those whom require them. There may be community reintroduction required to unite the population as a whole behind the peace process. UNICEF uses local NGOs to reintroduce children in CAR, which may help the process of returning them to their communities due to these groups’ specific knowledge regarding the country. The expectation of more releases may mean that soon UNICEF may be responsible for thousands of children in CAR.
NGO’s and IGO’s (nongovernmental and intergovernmental organisations) often play an important role due to their ability to be relatively unrestricted to the politics of relations between countries and groups. Through the specialised knowledge that their workers may have regarding the country in which they are active, these organisations may be more advanced in responding effectively to situations. In this situation it appears UNICEF might have made an important contribution in its brokering of the deal that has led to the release of the children involved in the armed groups. The nature of NGO’s work often means that it is behind the scenes, although these organisations often carry importance in resolution of engagements.
The release of children from these armed groups may go some way in protecting the Central African Republic’s youth. Children may be in similar situations throughout Africa and it may be believed that through the protection of children’s rights, UNICEF may have established an important precedent that may lead to future releases in different countries. This initial release may soon be followed by thousands of similar children whom may be offered the opportunity of protection and support regarding events which they may have witnessed.
How might the release of children in the Central African Republic improve the protection of children in the region?