The first thing that strikes you about young girls in Central African Republic (CAR) is their resourcefulness and resilience. In a country where millions live on less than 1 dollar per day, children are expected to contribute to the household chores from an early age and many young girls do not have the opportunity to go to school because their parents need them to stay at home and support the household. Furthermore there are serious risks associated with being a girl in this country. Frequent fighting between armed rebel groups has resulted in large numbers of people becoming displaced within CAR, which can make young girls particularly vulnerable to abduction, sexual assault and gender-based violence.
October 11th 2012 marked the International Day of the Girl, an opportunity to draw attention to the challenges young girls face worldwide particularly those who are discriminated against and abused. Experiencing violence at any age can have profound and lasting impact on an individual’s well-being, but young children are especially vulnerable to exploitation which can lead to physical and physiological problems that rob them of their childhood.
International Medical Corps has been working to protect children in northeastern CAR since 2008. Currently a new project is underway which focuses on the prevention, withdrawal and reintegration of children associated with armed groups. A serious challenge in CAR in recent years has been the active recruitment of child soldiers by rebel groups operating in the area. Children, both boys and girls, report that they have been engaged in a range of activities while under the control of these armed groups including acting as spies, cleaning, cooking, carrying weapons and fighting. During a 2011 survey, International Medical Corps asked children why they had joined these armed groups and the results were concerning with many opting to join voluntarily for a range of reasons including poverty and the death of their parents.
- 92% joined armed groups voluntarily
- 67% joined because their families did not have the economic income to support the household
- 14% had lost their parents, and feeling that they faced an uncertain future, joined the armed groups as a way to survive
The rebel groups have recently agreed to a UN backed disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process which includes a commitment to release child soldiers. International Medical Corps is supporting this process by assisting with the reintegration of former child soldiers into their original communities and advocating against future recruitment. We will provide these children with access to basic services including health and education and seek to find their families. Where we cannot reunite children with their parents, International Medical Corps will find suitable host families to take care of the children. Young girls who have experienced traumatic events during their time within the rebel groups will be provided with psychosocial support. Children will be encouraged to interact with one another through sporting and recreational activities so that they can become comfortable in a community environment.
The process is complex and support is needed for both the children and their families to adapt to the reintegration process. However promoting the rights of the most vulnerable, particularly young girls, is crucial in CAR. Our programs rely on the commitment of local staff and one day these young girls may have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of our own female health providers who support health service delivery in one of the most remote parts of the country. International Medical Corps is particularly fortunate to work with our team of respected female staff in Tiringoulou, including midwives and birth attendants providing antenatal and postnatal care. Their support is essential in our mission to improve reproductive health care in this country.