When the conflict erupted in 2019 in Birao, Central African Republic, Zinah was 12 years old and lived with her mother.
“I come from a poor family. My father died when I was young. We were four [at home] and my mother took care of us. It was very difficult because my mom couldn’t meet our daily needs. Right after my older brother joined the armed group, he was reported missing. My mother was so devastated by his disappearance. My older brother was the backbone of the family, helping my mother with the business and with maintaining the household. It was hard because people made fun of my mother; she didn’t earn enough money to feed us.”
Zinah couldn’t stand being teased and not knowing what had happened to her older brother.
“That’s why I decided to join the armed group. I wanted to find my brother so that we could support our family together.”
Within the armed group, Zinah spent her days collecting water, firewood and cooking for the combatants. She also learned how to carry weapons. Unfortunately, she also received the confirmation that her older brother died.
Along with 249 other children and youth, Zinah was identified as a minor during an adult disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme initiated in Birao in October 2020 by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and the government. She was separated from the group and, among other things, she received psychosocial support and an exit kit containing clothes, a pair of shoes, a mat, a towel and hygiene products to facilitate her return to civilian life. Sustainable, long-term and gender-sensitive reintegration programming based on the needs of the child is critical for boys and girls to fully realize their rights and to achieve durable peace.
Zinah is now a sociable and smiling girl, always ready to help her peers in difficult situations. The services provided by War Child helped her rebuild her life.
“I am very grateful for the services I benefited from War Child. I felt lost and I’m not anymore. What we do [joining armed groups] is done out of ignorance, by blind conformity; our community sometimes pushes us to take up arms. My wish is that War Child supports all other children affected by armed conflict; we need it.”
Since October 2020, Zinah is back to school. She is convinced that her place and that of other children is in the classroom and not in the ranks of armed groups. Zinah’s family situation remains however precarious given its modest means.
War Child is currently developing a prevention and reintegration programme for children recruited and used by armed groups. Zinah and her peers will be at the heart of its development and implementation. The objective is to make children and young people agents of change within their community so they can contribute to its stability. Zinah further wants to raise other children’s awareness to deter them from joining armed groups.