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Africa: Child Soldiers Released by Armed Groups Learn To Play Again

By Donaig Le Du, July 13, 2015. The Huffington Post.

Kenya Children learn to be children again Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya. Visit to Kakuma refugee camp during the filming trip of film-maker Gerry Straub. Shows new arrivals section at Kakuma with UNHCR emergency tents. January 2012.

Children Learn to Be Children Again.

After Release by Armed Groups. In the transit center for children formerly associated with armed groups, in Bambari, Central African Republic, Jonathan* a 16-year-old boy, is sitting on the floor and going through a big bag full of ‘jujus’ – necklaces, armbands and little pouches.”This amulet used to protect me against Kalashnikov bullets. This other one made me invisible to the enemy,” he says. Other children circle around him, amazed to see that he is sharing these secrets with foreigners. Then Jonathan grabs a knife and rips open one of the amulets. A murmur erupts from the crowd. He looks up, smiles, and says: “we are safe now. We do not need these anymore.”

The bags of amulets that children released from the Anti-Balaka group brought to the transit centre. ©Unicef CAR/2015/Le Du

The bags of amulets that children released from the Anti-Balaka group brought to the transit centre. (Photo: Unicef CAR/ 2015/ Le Du)

I was present when these children were released some two months ago by one of the armed groups involved in a conflict that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people in the Central African Republic. They had been with the Anti-Balaka armed group, which was created as a “self-defense” militia against the mostly Muslim Ex-Seleka group that briefly seized power in 2013 in CAR.

I was present when these children were released some two months ago by one of the armed groups involved in a conflict that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people in the Central African Republic. They had been with the Anti-Balaka armed group, which was created as a “self-defense” militia against the mostly Muslim Ex-Seleka group that briefly seized power in 2013 in CAR.

Children associated with the Anti-Balaka group

Back in May, children associated with the Anti-Balaka group, stand in a clearing, minutes before their release. (Photo: Unicef CAR / 2015 / Le Du)

On May 14, in Bambari, a town located in the center of CAR, the two groups released a total of 357 children who had been serving in their ranks. The children from the Anti-Balaka and Ex-Seleka were released the same day but sent to different transit centers. Although at peace now, Bambari is still very much a frontline town, with a river dividing the city. Communities are just beginning to cross the bridge during daytime to go to the markets, but at dusk everyone goes back to their side of the river.

On the day of the release, we went down into the forest, as close as we could get to their base, in order to escort the children symbolically, up the hill, to freedom. It was a hot and humid afternoon. The commander, dressed in a ripped Bob Marley t-shirt, was waiting for us in the clearing. Around him stood 181 children in rags, some of them as young as six- or seven-years-old, in traditional camouflage made of leaves, their faces covered in black mud. They were silent.

To read the rest of this article By Donaig Le Du click on the link below.

Huffington Post: After Release by Armed Groups, Children Learn to Be Children

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