Displaced civilians in northern Central African Republic (CAR) are facing acute hardship, including a high incidence of child or teenage marriage and widespread use of children as labour, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Danish Refugee Council surveyed 300 families from a population of 17,000 people near the town of Ndélé between May and September.
“One in five families reported having lost at least one family member during the first half of 2011 to insecurity, a lack of health services, or shortages of food,” UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told reporters in Geneva.
The survey also found that 32.5 per cent of children between the ages of six and 15 were being used as child labour, while 30 per cent of girls between 12 and 17 had been sold into marriage.
Displaced families said they married their underage daughters to members of the host communities and sent children to farm and fish for these communities in exchange for housing, food or money, said Mr. Mahecic. UN staff also received reports of gang rape by armed groups.
Displaced people in the area had almost no access to humanitarian help before June this year when a ceasefire was signed between one of the main rebel groups and the CAR Government, said UNHCR. Before the agreement, the only civilians able to benefit from humanitarian assistance were those who managed to reach Ndélé town.
The agency said it hopes that the improved security will allow for a strengthened UNHCR presence in this part of the CAR to respond to the protection and assistance needs of the displaced populations.
Ndélé, located around 700 kilometres from the capital, Bangui, was once considered the country’s breadbasket, noted UNHCR. However, because of the various rebel groups and armed banditry since 2005, many of its residents have been reduced to living in the bush, unable to do farming.
UNHCR assists more than 176,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and some 20,000 refugees in CAR. They are mainly from Sudan’s Darfur region and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).