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Extreme violence “blighting a generation” in CAR

Almost two-thirds of school-aged children in the Central African Republic are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of the violence they have seen or experienced during the country’s two-year conflict, according to Save the Children.

A new study from the international children’s NGO suggests that more than 60% of CAR’s children have witnessed or been subjected to acts of extreme violence since March 2013, when the mainly Muslim rebels of the Seleka alliance seized the capital Bangui and installed the country’s first Muslim president, Michel Djotodia.

The Seleka went on to terrorise the majority Christian population, killing men, women and children until they were ousted in January 2014. Predominantly Christian forces known as the anti-balaka (anti-machete) militia retaliated by slaughtering thousands of Muslims and forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes.

“Close to three quarters of the children, aged between five and 16, are said to have directly witnessed beatings, killings, artillery fire, or machete attacks on either their own relatives or members of their community during … months of violence and suffering,” says René Yetamasso, programme quality director at Save the Children in CAR.

The study – which directly consulted 111 children, 113 parents and 66 teachers – found that 91% of children interviewed had feared that they would be killed or seriously injured. Some 43% of children reported being victims of being physical abuse, shootings, or death threats; 65% said they often felt afraid, and 25% said they were too frightened to go to school.

More than half of parents said they felt their neighbourhoods were dangerous environments for their children, while almost two-thirds of children either described themselves – or were described by their parents and teachers – as suffering from emotional, behavioural, learning or relationship difficulties.

Yetamasso said the traumas they had experienced would blight not only the children’s individual futures but also the future of their country.

“These numbers underline the disastrous impact the conflict is having on CAR’s children,” he said. “If we don’t ensure those affected get the appropriate support to move on with their lives, an entire generation runs the risk of suffering for years to come, unable to get over their experiences or contribute to building a better Central African Republic.”

Among the report’s recommendations are: the establishment of after-school support groups for children suffering from PTSD and other emotional disorders; training for school counsellors; improvements to school security; promotion of positive discipline in schools to end physical and emotional punishment for misbehaviour; creation of school safety plans, and emergency training for children.

The new study was published as donors gathered in Brussels at an international fund-raising conference for CAR. Save the Children is calling on those present to step up their efforts, pointing out that the humanitarian community has received only about a fifth of the total funds required for the UN strategic response plan, while the education plan is almost completely unfunded.

“We must urgently restore schools as physical and emotional safe places for children, as well as training communities, parents, teachers, and health practitioners to identify children with psychological difficulties and help them resume a normal life at their homes and in schools,” said Yetamasso.

On Tuesday the European Union announced a new assistance package for CAR worth €72m (£51m). The new package comes in addition to the €377m the EU mobilised for CAR between 2013 and 2014. In July last year, the union also launched the first European trust fund, the Bêkou Trust Fund for the Central African Republic. The fund, which began with original funding of €74m, is intended to support actions linking humanitarian response to reconstruction and mid-term development programmes.

“We live in turbulent times, where new crises hit any time and anywhere,” said Christos Stylianides, the commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management. “But our attention must not shift from ongoing humanitarian crises such as this one. The people of the CAR continue to need our help to survive and rebuild their lives.”

Last month, the UN warned that the CAR crisis was becoming the largest forgotten humanitarian crisis of our time. According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, 2.7 million people are in need of aid in CAR, 436,000 are internally displaced, while more than 460,000 people are living as refugees in neighbouring countries.

Source: The Guardian

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