The Stark Reality Behind The Child Soldiers Of Somalia

A United Nations Security Council Report on Children and Armed Conflict, published in January 2017, revealed that 6,200 children were recruited over a six-year period as child soldiers in Somalia. Children as young as nine years of age are taught how to use weapons and sent to the frontline to use explosives, carry ammunition, and to perform domestic chores. Available statistics also show that 70-percent of the children in armed conflict in Somalia are recruited by al-Shabab, a Salafist jihadist fundamentalist group that is based in East Africa. It is estimated that more than half of al-Shabab’s force are children. While al-Shabab is the main perpetrator of recruiting child soldiers, the report said the Somali army and other groups also recruited and used children. Al-Shabab accounted for 4,213 (70-percent) of verified cases, followed by the Somali National Army with 920 children recruited.

The military court in Mogadishu, Somalia continues to try cases that are not legally within its jurisdiction and falls short of international fair trial standards. According to the UN, at least 64 death sentences were issued in 2016 and 12 of those on death row are believed to be children. Adding to the heartbreak of this story is the fact that many of these children said that they were approached with the promise of an education and jobs.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that he was “deeply troubled by the scale and nature of grave violations against children in Somalia and their increase since 2015.” He urged all parties of the conflict in Somalia to stop recruiting children and committing violations against them, as well as to abide by international humanitarian and human rights laws.

Any conflict or civil war is devastating for those involved, including the wider region and the international community. It is heart-wrenching to hear about the human rights violations, extreme violence, and large-scale displacement that is all too common with conflicts. However, that is taken to another level when young and traumatized children are recruited and used in the most brutal aspects of a conflict. This will have a long-term psychological and emotional impact on these children. As such, there should be more effort to remove and protect these children from recruitment by groups like al-Shabab.

The Somali Civil War is an ongoing civil war that is taking place in Somalia. It grew out of resistance to the Siad Barre regime during the 1980s. However, beginning in early February 2009 to present, this most recent phase of the Somali Civil War is concentrated in southern Somalia. Armed conflict continued in central and southern Somalia between the Somali Federal Government (SFG) forces, African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers, and the armed group al-Shabab. The areas controlled by SFG and AMISOM forces in the south-central regions remained in their hands. More than 50,000 civilians were killed or injured as a result of the armed conflict and generalized violence. There are 1.1 million Somalis that remain internally displaced, facing serious abuses and very limited access to basic services.

All parties to the conflict were responsible for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, amounting to war crimes. There was no accountability for these violations. Armed groups continued to conscript children, as well as abduct, torture, and unlawfully kill civilians. Rape and other crimes of sexual violence were widespread. The continuing conflict, insecurity, and restrictions imposed by the warring parties hampered aid agencies in their access to some regions. About 4.7 million people needed humanitarian assistance, while 950,000 suffered from food insecurity. Tens of thousands of people were forcibly evicted from their homes. Freedom of expression was curtailed: two journalists were killed and others were attacked, harassed, or fined. Humanitarian agencies have faced numerous challenges accessing needy populations due to insecurity, restrictions imposed by parties to the conflict, and targeted attacks.

Progress has been made in recent months by the involvement and initiatives of regional and international organizations. AMISOM and the Somali National Army are putting in place measures to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers in armed conflict due to increasing cases and security challenges in Somalia. In conjunction with the Dallaire Initiative, AMISOM is conducting a ten-day Training of Trainers course to equip officials with requisite skills to become rescuers of child soldiers. “We support and underscore our belief that the security sector actors have a particularly important role to play in protection of children because they are frequently the first point of contact not only with child soldiers but with all children in the operation areas,” said Darin Reeves, the Training Director at Dallaire Initiative.

AMISOM has a critical role in preventing the future recruitment of child soldiers and these officials will be key advocates to promote children’s rights in the region. Not only is there a moral responsibility to protect the innocent, but this will also be paramount in breaking the cycle of conflict that continues due to recruitment and the use of child soldiers. With that in mind, AU deputy Special Representative for Somalia Hon. Lydia Wanyoto has said that “It’s not just about Somali children. It’s about humanity. It’s about an African child given a chance to grow up as a child to fulfill their rightful potential in life.”

Sarah Hesson

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