Michel Djotodia might have self-proclaimed head of state of the Central African Republic after overthrowing Felix Bozizé, but his regime could be in danger, as several armed groups are reportedly flexing their muscles to do exactly what he did to Bozizé.
These armed groups are doing everything a rebel group would do in times of war, including recruiting children – boys and girls – to boost their ranks.
This new recruitment drive of child soldiers has irked the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which has slammed these groups, and warned their leaders that they will be held responsible for breaches of international law.
“Recruiting children is both morally unacceptable and prohibited under international law,” Souleymane Diabate, UNICEF’s Representative in the Central African Republic, said in a statement yesterday.
The number of child soldiers fighting in various armed conflicts across the world is estimated at 300 000, according to official statistics. Some independent groups, however, put that number at half a million.
The UN children agency, which said it has clear evidence of the continuing recruitment of child soldiers, revealed that over 2 000 boys and girls were estimated to be associated with armed groups in CAR.
This number includes self-defence groups before the latest upsurge of fighting began in December last year, UNICEF said, adding that the takeover of the capital by the Seleka rebels in late March has not stopped such human rights violations.
Recruitment of children for use by armed forces and groups has taken place on both sides of confrontations since December, UNICEF said.
“We have called on the new leadership in CAR to ensure that all children associated with armed groups should be released immediately and protected from further violations,” Diabate said.
He called on the new authorities in Bangui to begin demonstrating their intention to identify and release children among the ranks of armed groups.
The Geneva-based UN agency said it was committed to working with them to ensure that there is an immediate halt to new recruitments and support a process of identification, verification and reintegration of children.”
Since 2007, over 1 000 girls and boys have been released from armed and self-defence groups in CAR, UNICEF said.
Diabate said his organisation has worked with its partners on the ground to provide these children with rehabilitation and reintegration services.
“Over the past four months, tension, insecurity and a lack of access by humanitarian workers to large parts of the country means that children are at greater risk than ever.”
To date, only 25% of the funds required for protection activities as a response to the recent conflict have been received, UNICEF said.