Nearly 3,000 children in Central African Republic (CAR) have been recruited by armed groups since election violence broke out in December last year with many more are at risk, aid workers warned.
The resulting violence has driven more than 210,000 people from their homes while humanitarian supplies are cut off by widespread violence and attacks on aid convoys.
The situation leaves children, who are in dire need of help, increasingly vulnerable to forcible recruitment.
“Children are increasingly exposed to recruitment by armed men for about US$30, and many carry the scars and trauma from what they experience for life,” said David Manan, country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
According to United Nations data published this week by the NRC, almost 3,000 child soldiers have been recruited so far this year. It did not provide data for the same period last year or say if the recruitment figures had risen due to the fighting.
But Boris Cheshirkov, a spokesman at the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), said it had received reports about the presence of armed groups in some sites where displaced people are sheltering.
“(This) poses a severe risk for the displaced, including the risk of forced recruitment,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in emailed comments.
“The risks are amplified for displaced children, especially in sites where armed groups have been reported and as some schools have been attacked or occupied,” he said.
Children separated from their families during the mass movement of people were at particular risk, he added.
While children are used as fighters by armed groups, others are forced to work in other roles such as cooks or for sexual exploitation.
“It is a sad reminder of how we, as an international community, have failed to protect these young people,” said Manan from the NRC.
The CAR army, backed by U.N., Russian and Rwandan troops, has been battling rebels seeking to overturn the victory of President Faustin-Archange Touadera.
The nation of nearly five million people has struggled to find stability since a 2013 rebellion ousted former President Francois Bozize. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)