Child soldiers who should be in school in the Central African Republic (CAR) “have been given guns instead of pens,” Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui, has told Crux.
Speaking to Crux in Yaounde in neighbouring Cameroon, Cardinal Nzapalainga spoke of a “lost generation” in his war-torn nation.
“Children should not be carrying arms. They should be in school,” he said, before describing the youths as “a lost generation, because they are born into violence”.
Frequently drugged, Central Africa’s young people are manipulated by politicians to take up arms against segments of the society, thereby “creating tensions between Christians and Muslims,” the Cardinal explained.
He drew parallels with what the Boko Haram insurgents are doing in Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad and Niger.
“They force children to wear bombs and explode,” he said. “That is not the face of religion in these countries.”
Stressing the non-religious nature of the conflict, Cardinal Nzapalainga told Crux that “those who give out weapons are not imams, pastors or priests … people do not fight for the Koran or the Bible. They fight for diamond, gold, cows, to make money; they fight for political positioning, but in doing so, they use young people as sacrificial lambs”.
According to the United Nations, armed groups have recruited an estimated 10,000 orphaned children as fighters in the CAR.
Over a dozen armed groups control large parts of the country, exercising authority in various sectors, generally including economic activity. The CAR has known several conflicts since independence in 1960 and multiple attempts at peace, but reconciliation has remained elusive.