16 Dec 2013

Starving in CAR: what happened to three-year old Jacques?

After Channel 4 News alerted Unicef to the plight of three-year-old Jacques at a make-shift camp in CAR, he is now being treated for malnutrition and doctors say he is expected to improve.

Jacques in CAR

Over the last two weeks, Channel 4 News has been reporting from the Central African Republic (CAR) where 500,000 people have been displaced by fighting.

France has sent 1,600 troops in an attempt to stem the killing by rival Muslim and Christian groups and the UN has warned of impending genocide.

At Bangui airport, the base for French troops in the country, a make-shift camp has been set up for an estimated 30,000 who have fled the fighting. There is no shelter, no food and malaria is rife.

This is where Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson met three-year-old Jacques Seragaza, who he described as “a picture of abject innocence and abandonment”.

He wrote: “Silent, uncomprehending. A world at the edge of hell. His mother is dead. His father, listless, appears to have simply given up.”

The Channel 4 News team gave his photograph and exact location to Unicef officials.

It took some time, but Unicef is now happy to confirm that officials managed to track him down. The Unicef team in CAR said that he was taken to Bangui paediatric hospital and was diagnosed with moderate/acute malnutrition.

Doctors say that he has problems eating by himself, and is very weak and small for his age. Jacques’s father had reportedly been trying to treat him with traditional medicine, said Unicef.

Video below: Alex Thomson’s report from CAR, 13 December

But since he was brought to hospital, he has been given a nutrient rich diet, and will continue to be given high-calorie food in the coming days. Severe malnutrition can cause irreperable damage to internal organs, and Jacques will have to be monitored closely for any long-term problems.

“He is now recovering in hospital with his father where Unicef is monitoring his condition,” said a Unicef spokeswoman. “Doctors hope that within two or three days he will be much better. His long-term progress and any further needs can then be assessed.”

The short-term outlook for Jacques has improved hugely. But Unicef says the conflict in CAR is having a huge affect on 2.3 million children in total.

Read more Channel 4 News coverage of the Central African Republic >

‘Affront to humanity’

Unicef Executive Director Anthony Lake said: “Children are being killed because they are Christian or Muslim. Children are being forced to flee their homes and hide in terror to avoid the fighters. Children are witnessing horrific acts of violence. Children are being recruited into armed groups – possibly as many as 6,000. These brutal attacks on children are an affront to humanity.”

As well as the volatile security situation, and the unsettled government, malaria and disease are a huge problem. The European Commission sent a plane carrying 37 tonnes of urgently needed relief supplies to the capital Bangui on Sunday night, and it is also trying to ferry aid from Cameroon to Bangui.

The security situation in CAR has been volatile since March, when Seleka rebels (mainly Muslim) seized power. They have officially been disbanded, but the Seleka militia still roam the streets and are accused of mass killing of Christians.

Christian groups have also retalliated by carrying out revenge killings, after seeing family members being murdered and raped.