The United Nations envoy for children and armed conflict today deplored the rapid rise in the recruitment of children by armed groups in Somalia, as well as an emerging trend of girls being forced into marriage and other forms of gender-based violence.
“Some parties are using the radio, schools and putting pressure on parents” to recruit children, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, told reporters in New York after her visits to Kenya and Somalia last week.
She said two armed groups – Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam – openly recruited children into their ranks. Militias allied to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which has itself said it has a policy of not recruiting children into the national army, did the same.
Ms. Coomaraswamy said Somalia’s Prime Minister, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, agreed during their meeting in Mogadishu, the capital, “to do everything to prevent the recruitment of children” starting with the setting up of a focal point on the issue in his office. The focal point would then work with the UN to develop an action plan on ensuring that there were no children in Somalia’s armed forces.
At a meeting with the commander of the Africa Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the Special Representative said that she was told that the force – which has been accused of responding with indiscriminate shelling of residential areas when attacked – was developing child protection capacity and reviewing its rules of engagement.
Ms. Coomaraswamy said that killing and maiming of children was widespread in Somalia, adding that she had met some children with bullets still lodged in their bodies after being shot during clashes. Schools were often attacked as rival groups sought to impose their own curricula, she said.
She spoke of a “terrible situation” in a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the city of Bossasso in the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland in northeastern Somalia, where the IDPs had to pay rent for the land they are squatting on. Half of the children from displaced families were not receiving any form of education and women and children were often subjected to violence.
On maritime piracy, which is rampant off the coast of Somalia, Ms. Coomaraswamy said a jailed pirate in Puntland had told her that former pirates who had become wealthy increasingly relied on child recruits to seize ships for ransom.