According to humanitarian organisations, about 6,000 runaway children and orphans wander the streets of Bangui. All photos courtesy of the Voix du Coeur foundation.
Ever since the Seleka rebels took control of the Central African Republic, the country has been plagued by a spiral of violence that has taken street children into its grip. Some have tried in vain to find refuge in already-crowded shelters. Others, following the example set by adults, have joined armed groups and engaged in petty theft. Humanitarian organisations in the country are overwhelmed by this situation.
Several Central African children’s rights groups – working with the non-profit organisation Children Without Borders – have launched a donation drive to try to help street children facing deteriorating living conditions. The organisation says there are currently 6,000 abandoned children on the streets of the capital Bangui, many of whom spend their nights outside because of a lack of space at shelters.
According to UNICEF, about 2,000 children have joined armed groups in the Central African Republic since December 2012.
The “Voix du Coeur” foundation encourages older street children to learn trades, such as planting cassava, as seen here.
“We are forced to turn away about 50 children a day”
Ange Ngassenemo is the director of the “Voix du Coeur” (“Voice of the heart”) foundation, which helps street children in Bangui.
Ever since the Seleka took over control of the country, we have been completely swamped because the children don’t want to be on the streets due to all the violence. Normally, we can accommodate 60 children. Right now, we have on average 100 of them during the day; that number doubles come nightfall. And we only have 60 beds! For the past couple of weeks, we have been forced to turn back about 50 children a day.Even though we are swamped, our staff scours the streets to find the youngest kids and those most in need of help. Before the crisis, it was easy for us to find these kids because they gather in small clans, each with their own territory in the capital. We make them understand that living in the street and in these clans is not good for them. However, after the coup, it’s been much harder to find them because many are hiding to avoid running into Seleka soldiers.Lacking enough beds for all the children, the foundation makes do with what it has.“Some children disappear and come back wearing brand new clothes”We also see a reverse phenomenon – about 15 children who regularly stay at our foundation left with armed men who said they are part of the Seleka. We call these children the “wrestlers” because they fight to survive by clinging on to anything and everything. Some of them go out with these men to thieve. Others, generally the younger ones, are used as scouts.This is how some children come to own stolen goods. Some tried to bring their booty – such as mobile phones and computers – back to the foundation, but we wouldn’t let them. The next day, they come back wearing brand new clothes that they bought by selling their loot!“We don’t have anyone to talk to about children’s rights”Whenever we try to talk about this situation with government representatives, we receive no response [Editor’s note: the foundation, with the help of UNICEF, has tried in vain to contact the education minister and the minister for youth and sports]. The only people we can talk to are the Seleka representatives that we come across. But whenever we beg them to do something, they always ask for money. A month after the fall of Bangui, it’s clear that our country is still totally disorganised.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron).