“Many schools were destroyed, but this research has revealed that children have attempted to return to school only to find classrooms littered with explosives left behind by armed occupiers. Schools have also been used as places to dispose corpses after attacks.” – Edwin Asante
The Central African Republic (CAR), one of the world’s poorest countries, lies in the heart of Africa, landlocked by Chad, Sudan, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Cameroon. The CAR obtained its independence from France in 1960, but since then, it has suffered from many violent changes in the government, has endured brutal dictatorships and coups, and has been negatively affected by war.
Now, the CAR is in the midst of a religious civil war between Christians and Muslims, which began with the formation of the Muslim Séléka rebel group in 2012. The Séléka rebel group, led by Michel Djotodia, believed that the CAR government failed to follow through with the terms of the 2007 peace deal that was implemented in hopes of ending the Central African Bush War. In 2013, the Séléka rebels seized the capital (Bangui), forced the president at the time, François Bozizé, into exile, and made Djotodia the new interim president of CAR. Djotodia was the first Muslim president of CAR, which is predominantly a Christian nation. As a result of this new government, the anti-Balaka forces, consisting mostly of Christians, became involved in the fight against the Séléka rebels.
In January 2013, Djotodia resigned as president and Catherine Samba-Panza took over as interim president. Since 2013, violence has reached unprecedented levels, so the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU), and France have deployed troops to CAR in an attempt to bring the violence under control. However, since October 7, violence has escalated, and there have been violent attacks and protests against the international peacekeeping troops, as well.
The “Forgotten” Children
According the World Food Program (WFP), as of May 2015, there have been over 600,000 people internally displaced and over 1.6 million people that are food insecure as a result of this civil war. The violent conflict in the CAR has caused thousands of children to become orphans, left to fend for themselves on the streets because militants from both sides have killed their parents and destroyed their villages. Unfortunately, these children are paying the price of this conflict by being denied their most basic rights to food, education, security, and health. According to World Vision, 159,000 children under 5 years are at risk of malnutrition and 40% of children are not able to attend schools. Child labor and child soldiers are increasingly becoming a huge problem in the CAR as militants from both sides recruit children to fight or work for them. According to UNICEF, 2.3 million children have been affected by this crisis.
The media has primarily been focusing on the Ebola crisis in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, as well as the ongoing conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Nigeria, and South Sudan. However, the media has failed to highlight the prominent issues that are occurring in the remaining 48 African countries, especially the crisis in the CAR. The children in the CAR have been “forgotten” once again.
A Step in the Right Direction
Save the Children and Merlin have partnered together to improve security and health conditions for the “forgotten” children. They have set up Child Friendly Spaces in local health centers to provide a safe haven for children who want to escape the streets. In addition, UNICEF has secured water supplies for approximately 55,000 people and has brought in emergency supplies for the affected children in the CAR. Moreover, UNICEF is setting up 78 temporary learning spaces for about 15,600 children to help “normalize” their lives again. While these efforts are a step in the right direction, why aren’t international governments, NGOs, and inter-governmental agencies doing more to provide alternative viable, sustainable solutions to these problems? What else can be done to invest in a better future for the children and people of the CAR? Do more permanent solutions exist? After all, according to Save the Children, “by investing in their futures, we can help ensure that they do not accede to becoming the forgotten children of a forgotten crisis.”
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