May 14, 2015 – More than 300 children, including several under 12 years old, have been released from armed groups in the Central African Republic following a Unicef-facilitated agreement by the groups’ leaders to free all children in their ranks.

Three separate ceremonies were held today near the town of Bambari during which 357 children were released by anti-Balaka militias and the ex-Seleka armed group.

Unicef and partners have begun efforts to provide psychosocial support and to reunify the children with their families, and will be supporting their reintegration into their communities.

“After two years of heavy fighting, the release of children by these groups -- on the same day -- is a real step towards peace,” said Mohamed Malick Fall, Unicef’s Representative, who attended today’s ceremonies. "Violence and suffering can now give way to a brighter future for children.”

The children received medical screenings and had the opportunity to speak with trained social workers. When security conditions permit, children with relatives in the area will be reunited with their families while others will be placed with foster-caregivers until their families can be traced.

Today’s events represent the single largest release of children associated with armed groups in the Central African Republic since violence erupted in 2012.

“This was the start of a process that we hope will result in the release of thousands of children associated with armed groups in the Central African Republic,” said Fall.

“Each of them will require extensive support and protection so that they can rebuild their lives and resume their childhood.”

The agreement by the leaders of CAR’s 10 armed groups to release children in their ranks was signed during a reconciliation forum held in the capital Bangui last week as the result of a collaboration between Unicef, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and the Government of the Central African Republic.

Unicef estimates that between 6,000 and 10,000 children are currently connected with the country’s armed factions. This figure includes children serving as combatants, others who are being used for sexual purposes, and those working as cooks, messengers and in other roles.  

The agreement also commits the groups to ending additional recruitment of children and gives Unicef and its partners immediate and unrestricted access to the areas under the groups’ control in order to identify and verify the number of affected children and to secure their release. 

Unicef has warned that the process of releasing and reintegrating the children will place additional demands on the already limited funding available to respond to the humanitarian emergency in the Central African Republic. As of 30 April, Unicef had received $US 17 million out of the $US 73.9 million required this year.

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Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children.  As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK. For more information please visit unicef.org.uk