Children of the Front
Civil war broke out in the Central African Republic in 2012. It was a bloody conflict between Muslims (Seleka) and Christians (Anti-balaka) that led to the loss of thousands of lives. The Muslim militants pillaged Christian villages and the Christian militants pillaged Muslim villages. The nation was torn apart by the conflict and few were able to avoid becoming involved in the bloodshed.
It’s estimated that the armed groups recruited some 6,000 to 10,000 innocent boys and forced them to become cold-blooded murderers. These young children became both witnesses and perpetrators of the most horrific crimes you can imagine.
Three years later, both parties agreed to a ceasefire, which called for disarmament, mobilization of soldiers, and rejection of armed conflict. This agreement started the long process of liberating the child soldiers.
Little boys as young as 8 years old tell stories of watching their mothers getting raped in front of them or of slitting a person’s throat and sucking the blood. One man says he wasn’t a soldier; he was just an angry man who was forced into war. He admits to having over 600 children under his command that he willingly gave over to the UNICEF when they came.
A nearby refugee camp houses thousands of families from all over the country that lost their homes and their jobs. The people who live there eat because of the World Food Program. There’s also a school, but with only six teachers, each classroom has over a hundred students. Some are former child soldiers.
When a child leaves the ranks, he is considered a threat to his community. Because he has already killed and had a taste of the adrenaline rush that it produces, the fear is that he will kill again, maybe even his own family. The child first needs to be sent to the transit center, where he will be prepared to reenter society without relying on the guns, knives and grenades that he has gotten used to.
The children are taught to read and write at the transit center, and they also learn to master a profession or a trade. When a child leaves the armed groups, he can no longer be considered a child. He is more of a precocious adult.
Within a year more than 3,000 children had been demobilized from the militant groups. UNICEF supervises their rehabilitation and the Red Cross searches for their families or living relatives because the children were often moved hundreds of kilometers away from their villages.
About 2,500 child soldiers still remain with the armed groups. Many of those remaining joined voluntarily. One young boy says that Seleka captured and murdered his dad and that same day he joined Anti-balaka. Another one tells how they murdered both his parents and he joined to take revenge.
Those young boys who are unable to join the rehabilitation program are forced to live with their memories. Watch this now.