Growing risks for children in the Central African Republic as child displacement hits highest levels since 2014 – UNICEF Geneva Palais briefing note

This is a summary of what was said by UNICEF Representative in the Central African Republic Fran Equiza– to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

“According to the latest estimates, at least 168,000 children were forced to flee their homes by widespread violence in the run-up to and following general elections of last December in the Central African Republic (CAR).

“370,000 children are now internally displaced across the country because of ongoing violence and insecurity.

“This is the highest level of child displacement in the country since 2014.

“UNICEF is warning of the mounting risks for children, including exposure to sexual and physical violence, recruitment to armed forces and groups, increasing rates of malnutrition and limited access to essential services.

“We are extremely concerned about the fate of the thousands of children who, after seeing their lives turned upside down by conflict and violence, may now experience the additional trauma of being forced to join and live among armed actors, to engage in combat, putting both themselves and the lives of others at extreme risk.

“53 per cent of the population, half of whom are children, need humanitarian aid.

“At a time of increasing insecurity, and when we risk reducing our field presence, UNICEF’s humanitarian strategy remains to “Stay and deliver”.

“While we continue to advocate for safer and unrestricted humanitarian access, UNICEF works through national and international NGOs, or by temporarily deploy its own staff when there are no available partners, to reach those in need with lifesaving support, including health, protection, water and sanitation, as well as education.

Humanitarian situation by sector

“Protection is one of the most urgent needs. In the last three months of 2020 alone, the UN verified more grave violations than in the entire first half of the same year, that is 415 incidents affecting 353 children (compared to 384 incidents affecting 284 children).

“In June 2020, the government of the Central African Republic adopted a national child protection code, which, for the first time, explicitly prohibits the recruitment and use of children by armed groups and forces, and clearly states that children formerly associated with armed groups should not be treated as adults.

“On health, although CAR has generally registered a relatively low number of COVID-19 cases, the indirect impact of the epidemic has been severe: a significant decrease of immunization rates was observed, due to the challenges faced in conducting routine immunization. The pandemic has also resulted in the closure and disruption of services for forcibly displaced children and victims of violence including by armed groups. Incidents of gender-based violence against children spiked at the height of the COVID-19 epidemic and during school closures.

“The country has recently signed with the COVAX facility. The process is ongoing, and vaccines are expected to be delivered soon.

“In terms of education, the recent escalation of violence has resulted in schools being forcibly shuttered, occupied, or damaged in 11 out of the country’s 16 prefectures, affecting one in two children.

“One in every four schools is not functional because of fighting, and half the country’s children are out of school because of conflict.

“The ongoing conflict has destroyed schools and driven out qualified teachers – 24 per cent of municipalities do not have primary schools. 45 per cent of enrolled children did not complete the school year in 2018-2019 and dropped out of school.

“Moving on to nutrition, at least 24,000 children under five across 14 of the Central African Republic’s 35 health districts are at risk of severe acute malnutrition following the recent spike in violence across the country.

“Out of these 14 districts, which are now on alert for a child malnutrition crisis, six currently have no resources or capacity to respond to children’s acute needs.

“This adds to the negative impact that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have on children’s nutrition security. This year, at least 62,000 children under five are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition, a 25 per cent increase from 2020.

“In terms of the challenges we are facing, humanitarian access remains a major concern, with 115 incidents against aid workers recorded by OCHA in January and February 2021, vs. 46 in the same period of 2020. This contributed to the suspension or reduction of humanitarian presence in most affected areas.

“CAR remains one of the most dangerous countries for humanitarian workers.

“We renew our call to all parties to the conflict and groups to facilitate the immediate release of all children in their ranks and to protect every civilian, especially children and women, from violence, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.

“Limited availability of supplies on the local market, coupled with roads in very poor conditions and insecurity, also represents an important challenge when it comes to quick availability and deployment of supplies. Pre-positioning of relief supplies has been a good mitigation strategy but has proven insufficient in the face of increasing emergency needs.

UNICEF’s response

“Despite significant challenges, including attacks against humanitarian workers, UNICEF continues to strengthen its child protection activities across the country. These efforts include the deployment of mobile child protection teams who can reach vulnerable children, including those located in remote areas. UNICEF and its partners are also working to provide children with mental health and psychosocial activities through child-friendly spaces and other community-based interventions.

“As part of the longer-term process of reintegration to their families and in their communities, children formerly associated with armed forces and groups are benefitting from specialized programmes that allow them to go back to school or receive vocational training.

“Since 2014, UNICEF and its partners have contributed to the release of more than 15,500 children – 30 per cent of whom are girls – from armed groups.

“Approximately one in five of these children, however, has not yet been enrolled in reintegration programmes, mainly due to funding constraints.

“UNICEF’s emergency child protection efforts also remain critically underfunded. In 2020, less than 50 per cent of the interventions were funded directly impacting the wellbeing of tens of thousands of children. In 2021, the organisation is seeking US$8.2 million to scale up its activities in support of children and women affected by violence, exploitation, and abuse.

“UNICEF is increasingly integrating multisectoral responses – such as emergency health and child protection activities into relief distributions provided through the Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM), through, for example, mobile teams and clinics. This approach helps cover the diverse range of humanitarian needs to the maximum extent possible.

“At the same time, UNICEF continues to invest in cash-based assistance, to strengthen capacity, systems, and community resilience.

“UNICEF will continue to be on the frontlines of the response, working to protect children from grave rights violations, but we cannot do this alone. To keep children out of harm’s way and help them build the future they deserve, we need the collaboration of all.”

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