Central African Republic: A Nightmare for Children, a Nightmare for the Future

There is a devastating humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR), a crisis now in its third year that has led to the internal displacement of nearly 450,000 people, and to the same number of people living as refugees in neighboring countries.

The crisis has been given a "Level 3 Emergency" rating by the United Nations -- the same level as Syria, Iraq and South Sudan. Peacekeepers were deployed in September 2014, yet violence continues to escalate in some areas, and a United Nations report in December detailed ethnic cleansing and human-rights atrocities in the thousands, though it "considers that such estimates fail to capture the full magnitude of the killings that occurred."

The violence has destroyed already inadequate health and education systems. At least 30,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition, and at least 2.7 million people (more than half of the country's population) urgently need humanitarian assistance.

It looks bleak now, and it looks bleak in the future.

Nearly 1.5 million children are out of school, rapidly losing any hope of rebuilding their lives and their country. Out-of-school children are at greater risk of violence, rape, recruitment into militias, and prostitution. A lack of education also means children may not have access to life-saving information, including how to protect themselves from sexual abuse and disease, and may not have anywhere safe to recover from trauma.

The Global Partnership for Education approved new resources of $15.5 million last month to support the transitional plan, rebuild schools and provide educational materials. This is a great step forward, but by itself it will not be enough to provide safe schools and learning for millions of children.

The issue of a lack of education for millions of children is not just unacceptable from a human-rights perspective; it is a disaster in the making, with wide-ranging security implications. Neighboring countries Cameroon, Chad, Sudan, the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have more than 7 million children combined out of school and are among the world's poorest and most vulnerable countries.

Ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population in the Central African Republic by the mostly Christian or animist "anti-balaka" militia and atrocities on all sides will not soon be forgotten. If we do not give these children a positive way to rebuild their lives and their communities, we should expect this history to serve as a clarion call for those who wish to perpetuate violence along ethnic and religious lines.

It's true that children are the future. But nowhere is that truer than in the Central African Republic and surrounding countries. Nowhere is it truer than in the worst kinds of emergencies. We know how to deliver what children need in these contexts; we just lack the political will and forward thinking to invest the resources.

We will begin the long process of rebuilding with these children, by getting them in school and giving them, hope, skills, peace, education and the ability to recover from this crisis, or we will, with our neglect, sow the seeds of far worse devastation.

Kolleen Bouchane is Director of Policy and Advocacy at A World at School and Director of Policy and Research at the Global Business Coalition for Education. She served with the U.S. Army from 1993 to 1997, including in Operations Restore and Continue Hope in Somalia. She has a B.A. in international studies from the Jackson School at the University of Washington, and an M.A. in war studies with a focus on conflict, security and development from Kings College London.