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Hundreds of Thousands of Children Affected by CAR Conflict

Fighters for the Seleka rebel alliance stand guard in front of the presidential palace in Bangui, Central African Republic, March 25, 2013.
Fighters for the Seleka rebel alliance stand guard in front of the presidential palace in Bangui, Central African Republic, March 25, 2013.
About 600,000 children are affected by the conflict in the Central African Republic, according to the U.N. Children's Fund. UNICEF says humanitarian agencies are unable to deliver aid to many of the rebel-controlled areas.

The U.N. Children’s Fund reports many communities in most of the rebel-controlled areas of the Central African Republic have lacked basic services during the past three months. It says the situation has become worse since Sunday, when rebels seized control of the capital, Bangui.

UNICEF says it now is working with a slimmed down operation. Because of the security risks, it says most of its 30 international staff has relocated to Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. This leaves four international and 65 local aid workers remaining in the country.

UNICEF spokeswoman, Marixie Mercado, said hundreds of thousands of children are extremely vulnerable. They are receiving little assistance because humanitarian organizations have no access to them. She said a UNICEF mission to three rebel-controlled areas earlier this month found shortages in life-saving medicines.

“Health activities have been seriously disrupted as most doctors have left. Many schools are closed, occupied by armed groups, or without teachers, denying 166,000 children often access to an education. We estimate that 13,500 children will suffer from life-threatening malnutrition this year and many nutrition centers are closed and looted,” said Mercado.

Chaos reigns

Since the Seleka coalition - a loose alliance of three rebel movements - captured Bamako, the International Committee of the Red Cross reports widespread looting. It says the hospitals are full of injured people, and there are frequent electricity cuts and no water in the city.

Members of the U.N. Security Council have strongly condemned the recent attacks and seizure of power, which caused President Francois Bozize to flee to neighboring Cameroon. The Security Council also condemned the deaths and injuries to South African peacekeeping soldiers.

UNICEF’s Mercado said in this chaotic setting, children are at major risk of being recruited into armed groups and of being victimized by gender-based violence.

“Most vulnerable are children who have lost their homes, have been separated from their families, or were formerly associated with armed groups. Even before the current crisis, UNICEF estimated that some 2,500 children, both girls and boys, were associated with armed groups in the Central African Republic. And, since the outbreak of this conflict, UNICEF has received credible reports that both rebel groups and pro-government militias have recruited children,” said Mercado.

Before the outset of this crisis, the United Nations appealed for $129 million to provide emergency aid this year to the Central African Republic. Only one percent of this money has been received.