Two senior United Nations officials today urged an immediate halt to the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Somalia, where they say the practice is growing and affects children as young as nine years old.
“We are appalled to learn that the recruitment and use of children as soldiers by armed groups in Somalia is rising,” Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, and Anthony Lake, the Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said in a joint statement.
“All parties to the conflict are involved, and in some cases children as young as nine years old are being recruited,” they added.
Recent reports state that schools are being used as recruitment centres and that child soldiers are often beaten or executed when captured.
“The use of children by armed forces and groups is a war crime. It must stop immediately,” stated the officials, who called on all parties to release the children within their ranks and to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
Somali continues to be plagued by fighting between Government forces and its supporters and Islamist rebels. The Horn of Africa nation remains one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), some 570,000 refugees and nearly 3 million people dependent on humanitarian aid.
“The use of child soldiers is a tragedy for Somalia right now, and unless urgent action is taken may also threaten the country’s future stability,” warned the officials. “Children and young people are the majority of the population of Somalia and they deserve a childhood free from the terrors of armed conflict.”
They expressed their readiness to assist in the demobilization of Somali children and to help them recover their childhoods and reintegrate into their communities.
“We also call on the international community, including those providing support to parties in Somalia, to unanimously condemn this practice and use their influence to bring it to an end,” they stated.