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"I Hear the Cries of Women and Children When I Sleep": Life as a Child Soldier in CAR

by Laura Jepson, Project Reporting & Communications Officer, CAR | International Medical Corps - USA

October 25, 2013 - It is estimated that over 2,000 boys and girls in the Central Africa Republic (CAR) are associated with armed groups. International Medical Corps, with funding from UNICEF, has been working to support children affected by conflict in CAR, in particular those associated with armed groups in Vakaga Prefecture.

Since identifying 493 conflict-affected children aged 10 to 17 years old, International Medical Corps has been providing them with vital services such as psychosocial support and basic health care. As part of the children's integration back into their communities, International Medical Corps is also supporting local schools by providing equipment for the children and teachers; arranging recreational, sporting and creative activities; providing children and young people with a spaces to meet, socialize and relax; and facilitating vocational training for those aged 14 to 17 years to develop their skills, including workshops in carpentry, masonry, sewing and hairdressing.

Below, Abdel, 16, and Mahamath, 10, share their experiences as child soldiers in CAR—and the hope they have been given through International Medical Corps’ support.

Abdel, age 16

"My father has 3 wives; my mother is the 1st wife with whom he has had 8 children, although two are no longer alive. My parents are part of the ethnic group ‘Goula’ and we live on a farm.

Like any capable man in our community, my father was active in the armed conflicts that we have with another ethnic group, the ‘Ronga’. My father, who had status of a high rank in the armed group, was responsible for supervising the diamond mining activities in Sam Ouandja, a mining town located over 125 miles from Tiringoulou, the main base for the group.

My older brother followed my father into the group, and then it was my turn, at the age of 12 years old. First, I was used as a porter and a provider of information. After a time, I was integrated into the group of combatants where I learned to use firearms. Being in the company of the friends of my older brother, I was forced into using narcotics - hemp, cigarettes, glue.

During the recent events which enabled the Seleka to take power in March 2013, I was very active as the transporter of ammunition and food, and for spying. I have a hernia which I think was caused by these heavy handling activities. A few months later, there was an agreement between the government and the armed group. Following this, I returned to my family, but I realize I am no longer the same person. My suffering is great; I have trouble sleeping and I have nightmares. I can hear gun shots and the cries of women and children when I sleep.

I am now learning a trade with this program and I would like to show all my appreciation for the assistance provided by International Medical Corps to my community and especially to all the children from armed groups who, like me, had lost all hope. Thank you International Medical Corps for saving me.”

Mahamath, age 10

"My father was employed in a mining company in Haute-Kotto and was also active in an armed group. He lost his life in 2006 during a bombing in Mouka Ouadda, a village located between Bria and Ouada. After he died, my mother, older brother and I moved to Tiringoulou, the native village of my father.

My brother was killed in 2011 during fighting between ethnic groups, the ‘Goula’ and the ‘Ronga’. It was at this time that I integrated into the armed group for my protection and survival. Given my age, I was only used as a carrier of ammunition and for spying, but I saw horrible things - murder, looting, rape and burning down houses. I will always have in my memory the image of a rape where the victim, a young girl of 21 years, lost her life.

Now I am back at school through the program developed by International Medical Corps. I want the other children who did not have this opportunity to not lose hope. I am so thankful for this help and I wish that International Medical Corps continues to help my comrades who are still involved in the fighting.”

International Medical Corps has been working in the Vakaga and Haute-Kotto Prefectures in North-East CAR since May 2007 providing basic primary and secondary health care, nutrition care and protection for IDPs, refugees and host populations within these prefectures. These areas are characterized by insecurity and periods of conflict between active rebel groups, which have had a devastating impact on health, education, and water and sanitation services in this part of the country, leaving thousands without access to basic services.

Since its inception nearly 30 years ago, International Medical Corps' mission has been consistent: relieve the suffering of those impacted by war, natural disaster and disease, by delivering vital health care services that focus on training. This approach of helping people help themselves is critical to returning devastated populations to self-reliance. For more information visit: www.InternationalMedicalCorps.org. Also see us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.