Big Story 10

Rising numbers of 'skeletal' children as Central African Republic violence surges

YAOUNDE (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Starving, hiding in the bush or with armed groups, two in three children in the Central African Republic need aid, the United Nations said on Friday, as surging violence, attacks on humanitarians and funding shortages raise the spectre of famine.

Central African Republic (CAR) is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for aid workers, with attacks more than quadrupling since 2017 to almost 300 up to mid-September, the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF) said.

“Conditions for children are desperate,” it said, with 1.5 million children in need of aid, up from 1.2 million in 2016.

“The skeletal bodies of children fortunate enough to make it to the nutrition ward at CAR’s only paediatric hospital virtually scream ‘famine’.”

CAR has been in chaos since 2013, when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted the president, provoking a backlash from Christian anti-balaka militias.

About a dozen armed groups - fighting over cattle routes and lands rich in diamonds, gold and uranium - often target schools, clinics and sites for displaced people, UNICEF said.

Practically every child needs protection from armed groups who have expanded their control to four-fifths of the country, it said.

Fighting has uprooted more than 1 million people, with 2.9 million of the 4.6 million population in need of aid, with a risk of famine in a few years if people cannot return to their fields, the U.N. said earlier this month. [nL8N1XW5E6]

Every fourth child has fled their home and thousands are soldiers or sex slaves in armed groups, UNICEF said.

“Children have been targeted from the start,” Remy Djamouss, president of the Centre for the Promotion and Defence of Children’s Rights, based in the capital Bangui, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “But now the situation is getting worse.”

With some 12,000 children trapped in armed groups, it is becoming ever more difficult to free them or get them medical help as armed groups obstruct aid worker efforts, Djamouss said.

He cited the case of a 14-year-old girl in a village near Batangafo in the northwest, who aid workers said was raped by a combatant and needs urgent medical care.

“Members of the armed group refuse to let her to leave the village,” he said.

UNICEF said only 44 per cent of its $57 million appeal for CAR for 2018 had been met as of the end of October.