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Central African Republic

In the wake of increased kidnappings, UNICEF calls on governments to protect children

© UNICEF Central African Republic/2008
Harouna (right) and Beldo were held captive by bandits for nearly two years because their father could not afford their ransom.

By Rebecca Bannor-Addae

PAOUA, Central African Republic, 20 June 2008 – In the shade of the veranda, five-year-old Harouna Garga and his seven-year-old sister Beldo sit safely in their father’s lap at the family compound in Paoua, north-west Central African Republic. Three years ago, however, their life was not so serene.

The children’s father, Souleimane Garga, recounts the events of 23 June 2005, when his family was attacked by bandits known as Zaraguinas.

Attacked at home

"It was two in the morning when they came. There were many of them and they knocked down the doors," says Mr. Garga as he points to the various bedroom doors facing the courtyard. "They had Kalashnikovs and the bullets came down like rain."

Bandits killed the children’s grandfather and their uncle. Mr. Garga was shot in the back. The Zaraguinas stole the family’s valuables, including their cattle herd.

Worst of all, they took Mr. Garga’s wife and her one-week-old baby – as well as Beldo and Harouna.

© UNICEF Central African Republic/2008
Souleimane Garga comforts his children Harouna (left) and Beldo who are still haunted by their time spent in captivity.

Captive for two years

The children were held captive in appalling conditions for nearly two years because their father was unable to raise the ransom of 4,700 dollars per child after having paid for the release of his wife and the baby.

"When the children came home they were very thin and didn’t want to play," says Mr. Garga. "Harouna still wakes up at night – he shouts and cries."

The Zaraguinas are heavily armed and control many of the roads between main towns in northern CAR, where they loot, kill and kidnap for ransom. They have terrorized the local people and forced many to leave their homes.

"They are very bad people," young Harouna said. "They had weapons. There was a man who never smiled. He beat me many times."

‘Thanks, we’re free’

UNICEF is deeply concerned about reports of kidnappings and abduction of children in CAR as well as in other countries affected by violence such as Haiti, DR Congo and Iraq. These crimes are nearly always carried out with impunity.

In Harouna and Beldo’s case, the bandits held them just a short distance from their home.
“We were afraid but we kept thinking our father would come soon. We made up a song,” says Harouna eager to sing the words him and his sister held onto while in captivity. “'I’m happy to come back home. I’m happy to see my mama again. Thanks, we’re free. We’re now going to mama’s house'.”

‘We are all responsible’

The attack left Mr. Garga with next to nothing. Most of his extended family, including his wife, has fled to neighbouring Cameroon.

The Garga’s story is just one of an increasing number UNICEF is receiving where children are held for ransom or used as child soldiers.

UNICEF is calling on governments to enact and enforce measures that provide a protective environment for children.

“Governments have a responsibility to enforce measures that are in place to make sure that families and children are protected,” says UNICEF Communication Office for Child Protection, Geoffrey Keele. “We are all responsible for the well-being of children.”




21 May 2008:
UNICEF correspondent Guy Degen reports on two children in CAR who were kidnapped and held for ransom in CAR.
 VIDEO  high | low

17 June 2008:
UNICEF Communication Office for Child Protection Geoffrey Keele discusses the recent rise of the abduction of children.
 VIDEO  high | low

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