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NYHQ2012-1160

Children draw with markers, in a UNICEF-assisted transit centre for recently released former child soldiers, in the town of N’dele, capital of the northern Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture. Another boy plays with building blocks.

From 18 to 23 August 2012 in the Central African Republic (CAR), UNICEF Advocate for Children Affected by War Ishmael Beah met with children recently released from participation in armed groups, in the northern town of N’Dele, near the border with Chad. The children are presently staying at a UNICEF-assisted transit centre run by the Danish Refugee Council. Mr. Beah also witnessed the release of 10 children from the armed group Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), at a nearby military camp. Mr. Beah was himself forcibly recruited into armed forces during the civil war in his country, Sierra Leone. He was released from these forces in 1996 with assistance from UNICEF – a story he recounts in his 2007 bestselling book, ‘A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier’. Mr. Beah shared some of these experiences with the children in N’Dele and read them portions of his book. “When you are conditioned to function in war, it takes time to know that something else is possible. I went through that myself,” he told the children. He later remarked, “These children have been through so much, but their release marks just the beginning. Many of the children have little to return to … [and] urgently require special care over the long term.” The transit centre aims to help the children overcome some of the effects of the abuse, exploitation and violence they have been subjected to and participated in. It provides counselling support, basic education, sport, cultural activities and vocational skills training for 45 children aged 10–18 years. Three of the children presently at the centre are girls. Amid proliferating conflicts in the Central African Republic – one of the world’s poorest countries – numerous national and foreign armed groups use children to work as guards, combatants, domestic servants and sex slaves, amongst other roles. In Bangui, the capital, Mr. Beah also met with government and other officials to press for additional support to ensure an end to the forcible recruitment of children into armed groups. Worldwide, thousands of children continue to be deprived of their most basic rights through association with armed forces and groups. UNICEF continues to advocate for their release and supports ongoing rehabilitation and reintegration efforts that, since 1998, have assisted more than 100,000 children to integrate back into their communities.