Following the rescue by UNICEF of child soldiers in the Central African Republic, the abysmal living conditions in the small, underdeveloped country has been dubbed the “most dangerous place in the world for children” by Caryl Stern, the CEO of UNICEF USA.
Having a population of around 4.7 million inhabitants, the Central African Republic is torn by a civil war that has continued since 2012. Ranked last on the 2018 Global Hunger Index, the Christian and Muslim residents of the nation are constantly battling each other — and their struggle has gone virtually unnoticed until just now due to how isolated and underdeveloped the republic is. According to NBC News, approximately 1.5 million children there are starving or at risk of starvation. Many of these children are forced to fight in the war. While much of these children are soldiers, others are used as messengers, cooks, porters and even spies — and females are subject to sexual and physical abuse. However, there are some children who join the army to protect themselves and earn money to support themselves and their families, such as one outspoken 15-year-old soldier, who joined the army to support his family after the death of his sickly father.
In an interview with Forbes, the soldier, nicknamed “Laurent,” said, “I want to help this country get out of this crisis…Our fathers are old, so now it’s up to the children to help….Give opportunities to those kids that come after me. If you don’t help them, the boys will join armed groups and the girls will go and sell their bodies. Among those children, there may be a Minister, a parliamentarian or a journalist. There may even be someone who’ll be higher than you are!”
The entire country is in shambles. Bangui, the capital of the country, is the safest place there — but even then, it is still far from a safe place. Crime is rampant in the streets, disease spreads like wildfire, and the pediatric center in town is “so crowded that as many as three sick children may be forced to share one bed,” according to NBC News. The building is only a single story high and has 300 beds – not enough to house and cure all the suffering children in the nation. Many children have to return to the hospital after being discharged from it because they are unable to sustain healthy lives on their own. The country is mostly controlled by a variety of rebel groups outside of Bangui — the existence of laws and regulations in the Central African Republic is virtually mythical.
UNICEF however, is making genuine efforts to help bring about peace in the Central African Republic. They have recruited former child soldiers from the struggling nation to join a program that allows them to learn skills and concepts that are essential for life in a modern society.
According to Christine Muhigana, a UNICEF representative, “the Central African Republic is quite possibly the most neglected crisis in the world.” Though the problem will take a long time to completely solve, UNICEF will not stop making strides towards ensuring that it does not worsen. “The Central African Republic’s children have been abandoned for too long. They need attention and they need it now. They need it in the long run so that they can have a future they can look forward to, that they can aspire to.”