Escape Plans

by Kai Schnier

Poorest nation, richest nation (Issue III+IV/2018)


The yellow leaflets distributed by the US organisation, Invisible Children, begins like a message to a member of the family. “Letter to our brothers,” it says in large letters at the top of pamphlets which are distributed in central Africa, and which can be seen hung on trees, floating down rivers and on the side of the street. Clearly the opening lines have been carefully chosen. When one of the tens of thousands of child soldiers fighting in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo or in South Sudan, finds such a leaflet, there is one thing they will understand immediately: They still have a family they can go back to: My brothers are waiting for my return.

According to UNICEF estimates, between 10,000 and 15,000 children were recruited to fight in the Central African Republic alone. Both the predominantly Muslim Seleka militias and the predominantly Christian Anti-balaka militias force young boys and girls to join them. The notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which operates in the forests of the central African border regions, has been kidnapping juveniles for years now. 

This is why organizations like Invisible Children are working together with the United Nations on awareness-raising campaigns. The yellow flyers are not just supposed to encourage the child solders to ask questions about the meaning of what they’re doing (why are we actually fighting?), they also tell them about safe places they can go if they decide to flee the militias they are fighting with. This includes bases belonging to the Central African Armed Forces (FACA). It’s a simple idea and it is one that appears to work well. Around 79 percent of child soldiers who returned home said the flyers, and special radio broadcasts, were the main reason they did so. 



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