The UN reported on Friday that more than 6,000 child soldiers may be involved [UN News Centre report] in the conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. According to UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) [official website] spokesperson Marixie Mercado, recruitment of child soldiers [press release] is happening on all sides of the conflict, which has taken on sectarian overtones. "Violence and insecurity make children more vulnerable to recruitment, particularly if they are separated from their families, displaced from their homes or have limited access to basic services and education. Sometimes their grief over the loss of parents or siblings is also exploited." UNICEF Representative in CAR Souleymane Diabate said. "In Bangui and around the country, UNICEF is working with all parties to the conflict to verify, release, and reunify children with their families. We are encouraged by this collaboration with the transitional authorities and continue to work with all parties for the release of all children without delay." 23 children were released from armed groups in Bangui on Thursday following negotiations between UN representatives and transitional authorities. Since May, UNICEF and partners have secured the release of 229 children associated with armed forces in the CAR.
Last month UNICEF released a report [JURIST report] stating that at least 16 children have been killed and 60 injured in the CAR since the outbreak of extreme violence in Bangui that began on December 5. Violence in 2013 resulted in the displacement of approximately 785,000 people in the country and over the past three weeks almost half of the population of Bangui was displaced to sites across the capital. Children have suffered throughout the conflict and earlier in December, UNICEF called for urgent action [UNICEF report] to prevent child death and suffering due to malnutrition in the CAR. The UN is working to mitigate violence in the CAR and peacekeepers were deployed [JURIST report] following investigations from several UN rights agencies. During the initial stages of the conflict, UNICEF reported the recruitment of child soldiers [JURIST report] by both pro-government and rebel forces.