It is 12.30pm north-west Central African Republic and the local markets are alive with activity. Everywhere I turn, young children are selling food, perfectly poised atop their heads. They look at us hopefully: we might buy a piece of bread. This is their daily life.
These children are alone. They don’t go to school and spend their nights sleeping in streets or abandoned buildings. During the day, they work for ‘guardians’ who offer in exchange a small bite to eat.
In the city centre, we speak to several youths affected by the recent violence. Sango*, a curious and talkative boy, opens up to me about his life on the streets. “I am from a village just outside Bangui [the capital city]. The rebels visited my village in the middle of the night. They visited each household in our village and killed all the adults, including my parents. I had nowhere to go. I heard that my uncle lived here, so I travelled 400km to stay with him but then my uncle died and again I was left alone.” His only option was to live in the streets: “this is now my home.”
Orphans with nobody to care for them
Most of these children have come from the surrounding villages. Their parents have died and the community has not filled the gap. Didier* is 6 years old and the youngest child of the group. “I come from the village of Bahong,” he says quietly. “Just like Sango, my parents have both died, so I came to the city because I was hungry. Now I follow the older kids, who look after me.”
I ask what happens when they become ill. They cannot visit the health facility: it costs too much. At the local health centre, the nurse tells us: “Around 25-30 children still arrive on their own each month. They are sick and hungry. Sadly, due to consultation fees, we have to turn them away.”
Save the Children and Merlin working together
In CAR, Save the Children is working alongside Merlin’s health programmes to improve these children’s chances of proper protection and healthcare. Child Friendly Spaces at Merlin’s health centres and community networks in villages, give children a safe space to play and a social net that can protect them from exploitation and from life on the streets. At each centre, Save the Children is also training health workers to respond to the distress and trauma these children have experienced.
Save the Children’s partnership with Merlin will enable us to reach many more children affected by the conflict in CAR. Together, we can help ensure that they do not become the forgotten victims of a forgotten crisis.
*All names changed to protect identities