Aid for children abducted and exploited by armed groups in the Central African Republic
By Colette Boughton
OBO, Central African Republic, 25 July 2012 – “I was at home asleep with my mother, brothers and sisters. In the night some men came with weapons and torches. They took me and two other children away from my family and many others from our village,” said Sophie*, recalling her abduction and enslavement by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the Central African Republic.
She and other abducted children were later separated and distributed among different cells of the LRA, forced to become porters, cooks, fighters and sex slaves.
Against all odds, Sophie escaped and found her way back to Obo, a town in the Central African Republic (CAR) that has become a recurring target for LRA attacks.
Benedicte* spoke of his experiences after being captured. He and 13 other children were taken by the LRA in March 2008. “I started by transporting things, being a porter. We were taken from here [in CAR] to a base in Congo, which was bombarded, and then the group was separated. I was then given a weapon. I had to go into villages and steal and kill. They made me kill to save my own life.”
The two long years before he managed to escape still plague him. “I forget, but when I am alone my thoughts can return to those experiences. I do not like being alone I prefer being around other people so that I can forget my experiences.”
Returning to their communities
To help Sophie and Benedicte overcome their traumatic experiences and to reunite them with their families, they were referred to partners of UNICEF and the USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA).
Marzia Vigliaroni, a psychologist and Chief of Protection in Haut Mbomou with Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI), has helped over 300 children abducted by the LRA in the Central African Republic. She explained how the children are supported. “I cannot only treat the child. I need the support of the community to help the child recover,” she said. “I listen to the victim’s story and what they have been through in individual interviews. I also arrange support groups where victims of the LRA – girls, boys, men and women – can express their experiences and begin to feel they are not the only ones who have suffered in this way. Attending school and returning to their family as soon as possible helps the children regain a sense of normality.”
Ms. Vigliaroni went on to explain that the effects of the LRA are felt across the wider population. “The whole community, not just those taken away by the LRA, are traumatized by the attacks,” she said.
Hope for displaced communities
The LRA moved into CAR in 2008. Since then, the population living in the four eastern prefectures has lived under the shadow of regular LRA attacks.
However, thanks to growing international attention to the plight of LRA-affected children and families, there is now hope that the terror inflicted on CAR’s eastern provinces is coming to an end. On 13 May 2012, a top LRA commander, Caesar Achellam, was captured not far from Obo. A teenage girl with a baby found with the LRA commander; she and her baby were taken into the care of community networks and are now being helped by COOPI. They will return to their family in another part of the country and receive follow-up assistance from COOPI to ensure she recovers from her experience.
Through support from USAID/OFDA and other donors, UNICEF and its partners continue to help children recover from their experiences in the LRA and return to their families and communities. OFDA funds have also helped provide basic social services such as health, education, and water and sanitation services for the LRA-affected communities and displaced populations.
“UNICEF and the international community need to continue to provide for the full range of humanitarian needs in CAR’s LRA-affected areas,” said Tanya Chapuisat, UNICEF Representative in CAR, “while also focusing on building community resilience though socio-economic support to deepen reintegration and promote lasting recovery.”
*Names changed to protect identities