The United Nations envoy for children and armed conflict today secured a commitment from top officials in Somalia’s transitional Government to start a process to end the recruitment and use of children in the country’s armed forces.
Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, secured the commitment from the President and the Prime Minister during her visit to Mogadishu, the capital, where she also spoke with children who had escaped from the ranks the Al-Shabaab insurgency, which is fighting against the Transitional Federal Government (TFG).
“Completion of an action plan will ensure that the TFG is child-free,” said Ms. Coomaraswamy. It would also “allow the United Nations to remove the Government from the ‘list of shame’ of parties that commit grave violations against children.”
During the meeting with Ms. Coomaraswamy, President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali and Defence Minister Hussein Arab Essa recommitted the TFG to the signing and implementation of a Security Council-mandated plan to end the recruitment and use of children in its forces, and pledged to immediately nominate military and civilian focal points within the Government to work with the UN to achieve that goal.
Ms. Coomaraswamy visited a camp in Mogadishu where Al Shabaab defectors and those who had surrendered are being held. Among them are 37 former child soldiers. She met with a 16-year-old boy who escaped after being trained as a suicide bomber and was injured in battle.
The boy’s case “highlights the fact that children associated with Al Shabaab are victims,” she said. “They must be transferred rapidly to civilian child protection actors, and be separated as soon as possible from adult Al Shabaab ex-combatants in order to begin the transition back to civilian life.”
The UN supports programmes for the reintegration of children associated with armed forces and groups. Such programmes promote rehabilitation of children through counselling, back-to-school initiatives and skills-based training, including family reunification.
In a meeting with Ms. Coomaraswamy, General Fred Mugisha, the commander of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM), reiterated the force’s commitment to protecting civilians, and children in particular, during military operations.
He pledged to continue to provide maximum support for efforts to identify and separate children from the TFG forces, including through the appointment of a child protection advisor in AMISOM.
Ms. Coomaraswamy urged all UN partners to work closely with the TFG, AMISOM, and donors to step up efforts to prevent the recruitment of children, and the release and reintegration of those formerly associated with armed forces and groups.
“With Mogadishu more secure following the withdrawal of Al Shabaab, the onus is on the international community to assist the Government’s efforts towards stability,” said Ms. Coomaraswamy.
Both the TFG and Al Shabaab are listed in the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict as recruiters and users of child soldiers. Listed parties must sign and implement action plans to end the grave violation or face the possibility of Security Council sanctions.
The Security Council in June expanded the criteria for offences that can lead to sanctions in Somalia to include grave violations against children.