Child Recruitment in the Central African Republic – “A soldier does what he is told to do”
*names changed to protect identity
The three boys who sit across the table from me at this rehabilitation centre were until very recently members of armed groups here in the Central African Republic. All three were involved in the ongoing conflict that has brought this country to its knees.
As we begin to talk about their experiences and hopes for the future one of the boys, 16 year old Namboro*, begins to explain the dilemmas faced by children recruited into armed groups here:
“I come from the north of the country where the old army used to come and make trouble,” he tells me. “One day they mistreated my father – they beat him up and tied his hands behind his back. Then they shot him.
“He survived but I decided that I wouldn’t take this any more. I wanted revenge and so I decided to join the rebels. They gave me a gun and taught me how to use it. I might only be a child but I’ve seen what this conflict is. I was part of it. I have seen horrible things; mutilated bodies, arms blown off, bodies without heads, lots of blood.”
“You can’t say no”
After arriving in Bangui he was identified as being underage during a demobilisation programme and then referred to this rehabilitation centre.
Yet the memories of conflict still trouble Namboro:
“I have done things I regret. But you must understand, I was a soldier. I didn’t have a choice. A soldier does what he is told to do. If a General tells a soldier to stop someone and beat them they can’t say no, even if there is no reason or they are women or old men. The reason I joined the rebels was because my community was being bullied by men who could do whatever they wanted. But then we did exactly the same.”
Before the coup, armed groups and forces in the CAR had more than 3,000 children among their ranks. And with the armed advance towards Bangui, thousands more children have been recruited in the villages and towns along the way.
The violence they witness or are forced to commit has important and very serious consequences on their development, wellbeing and health, and can seriously affect their chances of a better future if they do not receive appropriate support.
Giving children back their future
This is why Save the Children is working to ensure more children like Namboro are given the opportunities to get over their experiences and make a fresh start. Our Youth Clubs will provide 1,150 youth with life skills and livelihoods training, giving them with the confidence and tools to become active members of their community.
As Namboro tells me: “When I got to this place I started to learn how to become a mechanic. Now I will be able to get a job and save money. And when I have enough I will go back to school and study to be a doctor… that way I can help my community the right way.”