Pope Francis greets a patient at a pediatric center in Bangui, Central African Republic, in this Nov. 29, 2015, file photo. CNS photo/Vatican Media

Central African Republic is the most dangerous country for children, UNICEF says

By  Catholic News Agency
  • March 12, 2019
BANGUI, Central African Republic – Despite last month’s peace agreement between the Central African Republic government and rebel factions, the country’s citizens, especially children, continue to face violence and famine.

"This is the most dangerous place in the world for children," Caryl Stern, the CEO of United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund in the U.S. (UNICEF USA), told NBC News.

Ongoing battles between Muslim and Christian rebels have taken thousands of lives and displaced millions of people since 2013. The Political Accord for Peace and Reconciliation, signed in Kourham, Sudan, in February, is the eighth agreement to have occured.

Because of the violence between rebel groups, the country of over four million people has a shortage of necessities. According to UNICEF, 1.5 million children are at risk for starvation, 950,000 children are without access to safe water, and, in 2019, 38,000 children under the age of five will suffer severe acute malnutrition.

The children are not only threatened by a lack of food and water; they also face the risk of being recruited as child soldiers against their will.

According to NBC News, rebel groups control about 75 percent of the country, while the government has authority over the capital and other small sections. The country is dangerous for humanitarian groups; 396 attacks on aid workers took place last year.

David Brownstein, the U.S. chargé d'affaires in the Central African Republic, has expressed concern that the unstable nature of the country will give ISIS the opportunity to take hold of the area and promote further violence.

"ISIS takes advantage of vacuums. Literal vacuums, security vacuums, governance vacuums, perceived moral vacuums," Brownstein said, according to NBC News.

In February, a peace agreement was reached after a lengthy dialogue between the government and 14 major rebel groups. The African Union and United Nations mediated the discussion. Countries such as Chad, Angola, Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, France, Britain, the U.S. and Russia were also involved.

Vatican News reported that, under the agreement, the armed groups promised to refrain from the destruction or occupation of public places and sacred spaces. The deal also required that arm groups not harm civilians or humanitarian workers.

Bishop Juan José Aguirre Muños of Bangassou said the agreement was reached under false pretenses - a means for rebel groups to gain more control of the resource rich land, according to Vida Nueva.

"Although they already have control of 80% of the mines of diamonds, gold, cobalt, mercury ... and of transhumance, they want more,” he said.

“It is a screen to hide everything from above and continue conquering the country and stealing raw materials,” he added.

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