6,000 child soldiers fighting in the CARListen /
The number of children recruited into armed groups in the Central African Republic may be as high as 6,000, according to the United Nations Children's fund UNICEF.
UNICEF says the violence and insecurity in CAR makes children more vulnerable to recruitment, particularly if they are separated from their families, displaced from their homes or have limited access to basic services and education.
On Thursday, UNICEF managed to secure the release of 23 children from armed groups in the capital Bangui.
Those released, six of whom were girls, were between 14 and 17 years old.
UNICEF spokesperson in Geneva Marixie Mercado, says the organization is demanding unimpeded access to all military bases in the country so that children found among the armed groups can be released to child protection specialists.
"This last year of chronic crisis in CAR has spiralled into a complex protection and humanitarian emergency, with brutal consequences for children. The number of recruited children is believed to have risen considerably due to the escalation in fighting and the emergence of self-defence groups such as the anti-balaka. Although volatile security conditions make it extremely difficult for child protection actors to verify exact numbers, UNICEF estimates that the current number could be as high as 6,000. In Bangui and around the country, UNICEF is working with all parties to the conflict to verify, release, and reunify children with their families. We are encouraged by this collaboration with the transitional authorities and continue to work with all parties for the release of all children without delay."
The 23 children are now at a UNICEF-supported Transit and Orientation Centre that provides basic education, sports, vocational and life skills along with psychosocial support while the children's families are traced and reintegration within their communities is prepared.
Since May 2013, UNICEF and partners have secured the release of 229 children associated with armed groups and forces in the Central African Republic.
Patrick Maigua, United Nations, Geneva.