Please donate to our appeal for child soldiers here.
In many years working with Unicef I have visited a great number of countries, and seen countless examples of Unicef staff in the field working selflessly to deliver better lives for children, whether through access to education, ensuring routine immunisation, providing clean water and sanitation, or simply fighting for the basic human rights of the children in their care.
But nowhere is Unicef’s support more desperately needed than the Central African Republic, a dreadfully poor country, much of it at the mercy of rebel groups who force children to enter their ranks where they are brutalised and subjected to truly horrifying levels of violence and slavery.
This year’s Independent Christmas Appeal is raising money to support Unicef’s life-saving and life-restoring work for those children who have been drawn into in armed conflict in the Central African Republic.
Restoring a childhood for these children is not easy – first you have to get agreement from military leaders to even access their camps, then there is the often physically difficult and dangerous job of travelling to these jungle-based locations.
Once there, Unicef workers negotiate face-to-face for the release of individuals or groups of children and, if successful, remove them to places of safety.
Then begins the long process of trying to restore some sense of childhood to young people who have witnessed, and in some cases been forced to take part in, incidents that most of us would find hard to even imagine.
This Independent Appeal is raising money to support Unicef’s work with these former child soldiers. It will help provide basic food, health and shelter, as well as the support of specially trained staff engaged in the complex work of helping the children come to terms with what has happened – and move them on towards some form of positive future.
Finally Unicef, and the partner organisations with which it works on the ground, aim to reunite former child soldiers with their families, and where this is not possible, find them foster homes.
Of course, there are no circumstances in which children should be forced to become armed combatants. So, at a higher level, Unicef lobbies to make sure agreements are in place to try and prevent this from happening.
But tragically, all too often it does, and it’s estimated that right now, around 300,000 child soldiers are directly involved in conflict around the world.
By donating to the Independent Child Soldiers Appeal you can help Unicef continue this incredibly difficult and complex work – and you can feel certain that your money will bring hope and light to a very dark place indeed.
You can make a donation by calling 0800 037 9797, or by visiting unicef.org.uk/independent.
David Puttnam was President of Unicef UK from 2002-9