Since late September, the Islamist armed group, Al-Shabaab, has significantly increased the number of civilian abductions in Somalia’s Bay area to force families to hand over their children. Over the past few years, Al-Shabaab has become morally and financially weaker, making these communities tactical targets for recruiting young members and raising funds. Elders in the communities report that Al-Shabaab ordered them to give the terror group dozens of children between the ages of nine to 15 to “support their fight,” according to a resident of Berdale district.
In the Burhakaba district, 50 boys and girls were forcibly removed from their school in September by Al-Shabaab fighters and transported to a region with religious schools and military training facilities. In cases when elders refused to give the group children, the elders have been abducted and held until they handed over the children. Teachers are also being targeting as Al-Shabaab is putting major efforts into “retraining” to ensure the eradication of all “foreign teachings”. According to a resident of the Bay region, Al-Shabaab abducted 12 teachers for “retraining” in April and could only return home after paying US$300 each, SEMG reported.
This is evidently a case of systematic human rights abuses. However, there is very little action being taken by international organizations and other countries as Al-Shabaab is not considered an imminent threat to Europe, the U.K., or the U.S. As of recently, the Somalian President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohemed has launched intensive drone strikes on Al-Shabaab targets with U.S. backing. However, this is one of the reasons Al-Shabaab has been feeling moral and financial pressure, pushing them to forcibly recruit more children in the communities they control. Moreover, Al-Shabaab has subsequently been on the lookout for spies and suspects are jailed and tortured.
Some efforts have been made by the Somali government to improve schooling and security opportunities for these children. According to Human Rights Watch, in 2016, Somalia endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration to ensure safety in schools even during times of war. However, the country does not appear to have followed through on this commitment.
In order to protect the children, many families are choosing to send them on their own to areas that aren’t controlled by Al-Shabaab. However, this is not a risk-free journey with Al-Shabaab watching out for runaways. By October, over 500 children had fled the Bay region to Baidoa. The children have overwhelmingly been placed in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps unless they are fortunate enough to have relatives to stay with. For those in IDP camps, there are very few opportunities for schooling and security is very low. Therefore, the children in these camps may be forced to work to survive.
At this point, the UN has to provide assistance to the Somali government to ensure that the internally displaced children, particularly those who are unaccompanied, have the opportunity to live securely and receive an education. This involves improving the conditions of the IDP camps and investing resources into the communities that have had to absorb this influx of migrants.
The Somali government needs to target Al-Shabaab’s recruitment efforts. Due to the pressure the government placed on Al-Shabaab over the past few years, this problem has now erupted and it is the country’s responsibility to mend this unintended consequence. However, this is a heavy task without international donors. Therefore, the UN and aid organizations have to understand the pertinence of controlling the resurrection of Al-Shabaab not only for the sake of immediate victims but also the potential implications of the group’s growth.