A terrible plight, an amazing response by our readers

It’s an issue many prefer to ignore. But you have responded to our appeal with a generosity that could make a real difference

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Please donate to our appeal for child soldiers here.

Be warned, the expert fund-raisers warned us, people will not want to give money to an appeal for child soldiers. The public, we were told, will not give so readily as they would in response to a famine or natural disaster. That is because the child soldier is an ambiguous figure – he may be a victimised child but he is also a frightening figure with a gun.

But the doom-mongers were reckoning without the natural sophistication of readers of The Independent who have been able to hold both realities – that these are children as well as soldiers – in their minds and see that there is, with the necessary money, a series of simple steps towards restoring childhood to these tender victims of war.

To date our readers have raised a total of £171,872 in response to the horrible plight of these children. That is far more than our Christmas Appeal raised last year.

Children are used by rebel militias as soldiers because they are easier to condition and brainwash than adults. They do not eat much, don’t need paying and they have an underdeveloped sense of danger when they are sent into the line of fire. Warlords often send them in the first wave against government troops to draw the enemy’s fire.

As many as 40 per cent of all child soldiers are girls who are used as domestic and sexual slaves.

But if there is no doubt that these children are victims, the phenomenon of the child soldier throws up all manner of complexities. Many have been abducted, but others have joined the bush guerrillas willingly – either to get revenge on those who killed their parents or simply because they have no other way of obtaining food.

Some of the most chilling pieces we have run over the past five weeks have been those which drew upon the expertise of child psychologists to explain how kids of primary school aged can be brainwashed into a rebel identity – and what long-term damage that does to a child’s psyche.

(Click here to watch our playlist of videos from the campaign)

These are not just youngsters in need of food and physical relief. A boy who says he has learned to enjoy killing needs to have his soul reconstructed.

What has been uplifting about the Appeal is the evidence our reporters have collected of the great work that our partner, the children’s charity Unicef, is doing in the Central African Republic to improve the lot of these afflicted children.

Unicef staff are engaged in a courageous process of negotiating with rebel leaders for the release of children. They then provide basic medical, nutritional and psychological support to those rescued in special transit camps. Next, Unicef gets them back into education or, if they are old enough, provides vocational training to enable them to earn their own living. And ideally it traces the rescued children’s families and tries to reunite the children with their relatives. Even then its long-term psycho-social work is far from over.

Since we launched our Appeal for the work of Unicef with child soldiers in the Central African Republic, it has in its care 64 children rescued from rebel clutches.

Their vulnerability – and their continuing need of your help – was emphasised when, just days later, rebel forces swept south through the country to the capital Bangui with the apparent intent of overthrowing the government.

Our rescued children were twice evacuated to safer places and are now being housed in a secure Unicef centre in the capital. The rebel advance halted 40 miles away and the two warring sides are now engaged in peace talks in nearby Gabon. Troops from South Africa, Chad and France have arrived in the country and the situation is more stable.

As soon as security is consolidated, Unicef will reopen its transit camps and recommence the rescue of more children to add to the 1,000 it has rescued since 2007.

The money donated by Independent readers will help in a series of simple steps with that work. A gift of £6 can treat the rescued children against diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria; £25 could buy an “essentials pack” of clothes, underwear, toothbrush and soap, blanket, mattress and mosquito net; £62 can provide vocational training for a released child and £103 could fund the special training needed by a teacher to care for such kids; £150 can pay for one child’s psychological support, including individual and group therapy. And a highly generous gift of £516 could cover the entire costs of one child in the whole process up to family reunification.

The Appeal ends tomorrow, but it is not too late to make a donation. Phone lines, postal donations, gifts by text and the donation website will all remain open until the end of the month.

In the months to come we will keep you updated on the progress of the 64 children currently in Unicef’s care – and also on the work done with the amount raised for other rescued children. Thank you for your immense generosity to date. It is not too late to give.

All Unicef's work with child soldiers in the CAR is funded by donations. Please be as generous as you can. Click here to donate. Text CHILD to 70030 to donate five pounds.

• £6 provides life-saving treatment for one child from fatal diarrhoea, pneumonia, or malaria, all diseases that the children are vulnerable to in the Central African Republic

• £15 pays for schooling for a child who has been rescued from an armed group – including providing all the books and stationary they need.

• £25 provides a child with all the essentials they need when they are first rescued. This ‘welcome kit’ includes clothes, underwear, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, a blanket, mattress, and mosquito net.

• £62 provides vocational training to a child released from armed groups, providing them with a sustainable future

• £103 trains a teacher to help former child soldiers continue their education

• £150 pays for psychological support for one child who has been rescued

• £300 can buy enough toys for a centre for 50 rescued children to play with, to help them regain their childhood by having fun again

• £516 can support one child for a whole month. This covers the cost of everything they need at the rehabilitation centre, including care from dedicated and experienced staff, food, counselling, education, vocational training, and the costs for family reunification

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