Laurent* (name changed): a former child soldier and advocate
Laurent*, 20, spent about 18 months as a child soldier in the Central African Republic. He was released in August 2015, and then spent a year in a UNICEF-supported reintegration programme. By September 2018, he was a trained mechanic and had learned how to grow vegetables and raise animals, as well as basic literacy.
In early December 2013, Laurent recalls, he joined the anti-Balaka militia in Bangui. That was the day when Muslim and Christian communities, encouraged by armed groups, engaged in a killing rampage. “They [the Seleka] came into my neighbourhood. We were being attacked, and we were fighting back,” he says.
“Things are OK for me now,” Laurent says. “I can make my own living. But for UNICEF to really help, then we need to get all the kids out of armed groups. Go through the country and find all the children who have nothing, who sleep out in the open. Put them in school. If they don’t study, fine. But if they do, you need to help them. Many girls are forced to sell their bodies just to survive, and it shouldn’t be that way. What we need is jobs. As long as I can make enough money every day to feed myself, I will never go back.”