April 30, 2021
GENEVA – Conflict and violence have displaced 370,000 children throughout the Central African Republic. The U.N. children’s fund says among them are at least 163,000 children who were forced to flee widespread violence in the run-up to and following December’s contested general election.
Protection is one of the most urgent needs as internally displaced children face many dangers from violence, armed groups, COVID-19 and associated risks.
Speaking from the C.A.R. capital, Bangui, UNICEF Representative Fran Equiza tells VOA insecurity in the country is increasing as armed groups become ever more violent. One of his major concerns, he says, is the risk of children being forcibly recruited by armed groups.
“The uprooted kids are limited and sometimes, some of them absolutely with no parents around makes them extremely vulnerable to these movements that we have seen in the last few months to be increasing in the country,” Equiza said.
Since 2014, Equiza says UNICEF has been able to secure the release of more than 15,500 children from armed groups. He says 30 percent are girls. He says the children are given psycho-social support, taught job skills and helped to reintegrate into the communities from which they were taken.
He says the coronavirus pandemic is having serious indirect impacts on children’s well-being. He says health services are disrupted and more children are at risk of dying from vaccine-preventable diseases because of a decrease in routine immunizations. He says malnutrition has risen significantly among displaced children.
“Around 24,000 children under five are at risk of acute malnutrition right as we are speaking and this can reach up to 62,000 children under five expected to suffer severe acute malnutrition, which is an increase of 25 percent from 2020,” Equiza said.
UNICEF says the conflict has robbed half of the country’s children of education. Escalating fighting and violence have forced the closure of many schools. Others have been damaged or are occupied by militants and are no longer functional.
The United Nations reports 53 percent of the C.A.R.’s population, half of them children, need humanitarian aid. Equiza says UNICEF continues to provide protection, nutritional and other essential aid to tens of thousands of displaced children, despite the many security risks and lack of money.
Last year, he says, UNICEF’s operations were only 50 percent funded. He says he hopes donors will respond more generously to this year’s $8.2 million appeal so it can scale up its relief activities.