Refuge Network International

350 Child Slaves Released By Armed Groups In Central African Republic

More than 350 child slaves have just been released by armed militias in the central African Republic as part of a UN effort to foster peace in the crisis-ridden country.

Reports by AFP and Reuters indicate that an estimated 6,000-10,000 children are thought to be working as sex slaves or menial workers such as cooks and messengers for rival militias in the historically unstable country.

Some of them are less than 12 years old, according to the UN children’s agency UNICEF, which helped secure a deal for the release at a peace forum in the capital Bangui last week.

More than 350 enslaved children released by armed groups in Central African Republic – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Child soldiers, disguised in forest camouflage with sticks and leaves, handed over knives and machetes in a ceremony in Bambari, a town about 200 kilometres north east of Bangui.

More than 350 enslaved children released by armed groups in Central African Republic – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

“I want to thank the people who brought us here. We don’t want to stay in the army where life is hard,” a 16-year-old girl who fought alongside a Muslim rebel group called Seleka said.

The 357 released children were given medical screenings and efforts were under way to trace their families, UNICEF said.

“After two years of heavy fighting, the release of children by these groups – on the same day – is a real step towards peace,” UNICEF representative Mohamed Malick Fall said.

“This was the start of a process that we hope will result in the release of thousands of children associated with armed groups in the Central African Republic.”

Some of the children will be placed in foster care until their families are found.

Violence broke out in the former French colony in March 2013 when mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power.

Christian gangs known as anti-balaka carried out reprisal attacks and drove out thousands of Muslims from the south, dividing the country along religious lines.

Thousands of people are thought to have died, some from torture and lynchings, and around a million people have been displaced by the fighting.

About half of the population of 4.6 million people lives in severe poverty, according to the UN, with more than 100,000 young people facing the threat of sexual abuse and recruitment into armed groups.

In an agreement hailed by the UN as an important step towards peace, 10 armed groups agreed at the weekend to a peace accord requiring them to disarm and potentially face justice for war crimes.

Interim leader Catherine Samba-Panza plans elections later this year, with the support of French and UN peacekeeping missions.

AFP & Reuters

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