The conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) appears much less well-known than those in its neighbouring countries – the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Sudan are some high-profile examples. Yet, many children living in the CAR are still vulnerable to being recruited into armed groups operating in parts of the country.
The good news is that the country has taken many positive steps to rectify this children’s rights violation in recent years.
Last month, the national government was able to broker a ceasefire agreement with the last rebel group in action since the civil war officially ended in 2008. The group, known as the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace, assented to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate (DRR) the soldiers in its ranks, including children. DRR activities are an important part of ending civil wars and ensuring peace throughout the post-conflict reconstruction phase.
In some “self-defense militias,” says a new joint report by Watchlist International and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, children as young as 12 years old are still serving. Self-defense militias were formed to protect local communities from bandits, gangs and other hostile armed groups or individuals when the national army could not do so. Violence from some countries in the central African region tends to spill over into the others, causing insecurity in border communities.
The total number of child soldiers in the CAR’s self-defense militias is likely 2,000 – more than in recognized armed groups. According to information from the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2011, released last month, it is estimated that children make up a third of these militias.
Including militias in the DRR programs is important for protecting children as well as achieving a sustainable peace by preventing these militias from developing into fully fledged armed groups. For instance, the Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy, which signed the 2008 peace agreement, began as militia.
“The only answer is a well-trained, well-equipped, well-paid, well-disciplined army” – a priority of the Peacebuilding Commission for the Central African Republic, said the Belgian ambassador to the Commission, Jan Grauls, to MediaGlobal.
Poverty is rife in the CAR, which ranks tenth to last in the world on the Human Development Index (a measure of income, life expectancy and education). The country’s reconstruction and development has been complicated by a small economy, food insecurity, underdeveloped social services and demographic pressures.