Central African Republic: Children Traumatized by Violence Face Their Fear and Anger



The latest clashes in the Central African Republic began in December 2020. They involve armed groups and government forces and have forced more than 180,000 people to flee their homes in search of a semblance of safety.

Some live in camps for displaced people near the city of Kaga-Bandoro. But whether they have just arrived or have been here for months, or even years, everyone in these camps shares the same painful experiences.

The stories of pillage, rape, and summary execution are endless and they are all similar. We hear them from men and women, and also from children who, like their parents, have a real need for psychological support.

In addition to losing their home environment, many of these children have been deeply affected by what they have experienced or witnessed. Many have lost family or friends.

Fabrice (13) had to watch helplessly as his brother was killed in 2019. “They shot my brother. He fell. He lay dying on the ground. It hurts when I think of him. I sleep very badly. I have a lot of nightmares. “

In a country where psychiatric services are virtually non-existent (there is only one practicing psychiatrist in the entire Central African Republic), and the health system suffers from chronic underfunding, traditional healers, marabouts and shamans are the usual choice when it’s about treating psychological trauma. Parents turn to these professionals when their child suffers from nightmares or images they cannot shake, when deep depression causes them to avoid friends, or when they pass out for reasons their families cannot understand.

Romaric Debas, volunteer for the Central African Red Cross: “The most common emotions are fear, sadness and anger. Some children are very sad and some even refuse to speak ”.

Since 2014, ICRC mental health specialists in the Kaga-Bandoro region have been in dialogue with traditional healers and parents to convince them that the traditional approach and “modern” treatment can be complementary. Healers now send children to the ICRC, either immediately, without acting themselves, or when a child’s condition does not improve despite their rituals.

In all cases, the goal is to improve the child, respecting everyone’s beliefs. When the parents give their consent, the ICRC therapists can go to work.

By answering a questionnaire, parents provide the information necessary to assess the psychological state of their child. Psychological support is provided once a week in the camps for displaced persons, with the help of volunteers from the Central African Red Cross, either in groups or with individual children.

Therapists use stories, pictures, breathing exercises, or just the spoken word during individual sessions at Kaga-Bandoro Hospital.

Karine (10) has been deeply affected by the forced displacement of her family and the recent death of her mother. She tells us that talking to the therapy team has helped: “I went to see the Red Cross people and they consoled me. I no longer have nightmares. I can have fun with the other children. “

Parents are always involved in therapy. The ICRC establishes an oral contract with them, allowing their therapists to monitor the child’s progress. On average, therapy lasts three months. More than 550 children in the three Kaga-Bandoro displacement camps received therapy in 2020.

The needs remain enormous, so none of the children affected by the most recent displacement have so far been able to receive psychological support. But the results are encouraging. Parents living in the city start contacting the ICRC to ask the organization to care for their children.

ICRC President Peter Maurer was in Kaga-Bandoro on February 11 to personally see the results of the mental health program. “When we started to think about a more holistic approach to health problems, we started talking about psychological problems, the kinds of mental health problems that people are exposed to during war. I am very encouraged to see that the first programs are already underway. Because it is true that in the past perhaps we paid too much attention to physical appearance. We saw the physical wounds and treated them. But we didn’t see the invisible. “

The ICRC hopes that the Central African government can begin to provide adequate mental health services in the not too distant future, if stability and development replace violence.3 So that Central African society, both children and adults, can finally overcome its deep psychological crisis. trauma.


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