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Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Central African Republic

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Central African Republic, 2004, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Central African Republic

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 3.8 million (1.9 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 2,550 (estimate)
Compulsory recruitment age: 18
Voluntary recruitment age: 18
Voting age: 18
Optional Protocol: not signed
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, GC AP I and II, ICC, ILO 138, ILO 182

Child soldiers were reportedly used by government and opposition forces during armed conflict from 2001 to 2003. Armed groups from neighbouring countries operating in the Central African Republic (CAR) made extensive use of child soldiers until early 2003. There appeared to be no safeguards to prevent the recruitment of children to armed vigilante groups.


In May 2001 forces loyal to the former President, General Andre Kolingba (1981-93), attempted to overthrow the government of President Ange-Félix Patassé. In November 2001 the army chief of staff, General Francois Bozizé, fled to neighbouring Chad with his followers after he was accused of a separate coup attempt. Following repeated clashes along the Chad border with the CAR armed forces, in October 2002 General Bozizé's force again attempted to overthrow the government. Dozens of civilians died in the fighting. Serious human rights abuses, including unlawful killings and rape, were largely attributed to forces of the government and of its allies, the Libyan government and the Congolese opposition group, the Mouvement pour la libération du Congo (MLC), Movement for the Liberation of Congo. A successful coup in March 2003 brought General Bozizé's government to power. Libyan and MLC forces had been withdrawn by April 2003. Several hundred Chadian government soldiers were subsequently deployed as an international peacekeeping force, supported by several hundred French soldiers.1


National recruitment legislation

The minimum age for conscription or voluntary recruitment into the armed forces is 18.2 Conscription is selective and military service is for two years.3 The 1995 constitution was suspended following the March 2003 coup and replaced by two constitutional laws that pledged respect for international human rights treaties ratified by CAR.4 The labour code defines the worst forms of child labour as dangerous work or tasks involving serious risks to the child's health, security or morality.5

Child recruitment and deployment

Under the government of President Patassé, the authorities said that there was no policy of recruiting children, while acknowledging that underage recruits may have been recruited into the armed forces because of low levels of birth registration.6 However, in February 2003 street children aged between 12 and 15 were reportedly recruited by a French mercenary who was a special adviser to President Patassé, and were sent to reinforce MLC units.7

Children aged 15 and above were reportedly recruited into General Bozizé's armed group. Untrained and ill-disciplined, they looted and committed human rights abuses. Some child soldiers were integrated into government forces after the coup, including 17-year-old Eric Mbelenga in October 2003, who was promoted to the rank of sergeant.8 However, the fate of most was not clear.

Armed vigilante groups

The proliferation of arms aggravated existing problems of armed robbery and poaching, leading to the formation of self-defence vigilante groups, sometimes supported by the security forces.9 The government's Defence and Security Commission recommended that self-defence groups be formed of local volunteers.10 There appeared to be no safeguards to prevent recruitment of children to such groups.

Armed groups from neighbouring countries

The MLC was responsible for widespread killings, rapes and other human rights abuses in CAR.11 In late 2002 and early 2003, hundreds of women and girls, as well as some young boys, were systematically raped by MLC combatants who included child soldiers. The government of President Patassé initially refused to acknowledge or condemn the rapes and subsequently took no action against perpetrators. The government of President Bozizé also failed to take action.12

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR)

In January 2002 the CAR authorities and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) began a DDR program for former fighters. Some arms had been handed to children as young as 13 for safekeeping by fleeing combatants.13 The government's Defence and Security Commission estimated in September and October 2003 that 50,000 arms were held illegally in CAR, 30,000 of them in Bangui.14 A larger program to disarm and demobilize over 7,500 ex-combatants and government soldiers was approved by the government and its international partners in February 2004.15

Other developments

In February 2003 the Central African Republic signed the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.16

* see glossary for information about internet sources

1 Amnesty International Reports 2003 and 2004,

2 Initial report of Central African Republic to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/11/Add.18, 18 November 1998,

3 B. Horeman and M. Stolwijk, Refusing to Bear Arms: A World Survey of Conscription and Conscientious Objection to Military Service, War Resisters International, London, 1998,

4 Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Africa Region, Quarterly reports of field offices, 16 September 2003.

5 US Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2003, February 2004,

6 UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding observations: Central African Republic, UN Doc. CRC/C/15/Add.138, 16 October 2000.

7 US Department of State, op. cit.

8 IRIN, "CAR: Special report on the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration of ex-fighters", 8 December 2003,

9 IRIN, "Les autorités locales créent des groupes d'autodéfense dans l'est", 18 Décembre 2003; IRIN, "Impact of war on the northeast", 3 March 2004.

10 Dialogue national – Commission No. 3: Défense et Sécurité,

11 Amnesty International (AI), Democratic Republic of the Congo: Children at war, September 2003.

12 Amnesty International Report 2004.

13 IRIN, "Focus on disarmed women", 8 March 2004.

14 IRIN, "CAR Special report on the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration of ex-fighters", 8 December 2003.

15 IRIN, "Le gouvernement approuve le programme de DDR du PNUD", 11 February 2004. 16 African Union,

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