Yesterday, Somalia’s transitional government signed an action plan with the United Nations (UN) that commits them to cooperating to end the use of child soldiers. Under the action plan, the government agreed to take certain steps to stop the recruitment of children and ensure a child-free national armed forces.
The International Contact Group on Somalia, a diplomatic group aiming to bringing peace and stability to the country, witnessed the signing of the agreement at a gathering in Rome, Italy. The country’s interim government, supported by the UN, was installed in 2004.
“I strongly urge the governments present here at the ICG to come forward and provide the necessary funding for the release and reintegration of these children,” said the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS), Augustine Mahiga, in a UN news piece.
The Somali government and UN are expected to sign a broader agreement later this month in Mogadishu, the national capital. This agreement will commit the government to preventing the killing and maiming of children, who in many conflicts are too often the victims of unprovoked violence against civilians.
A number of the initiatives agreed to yesterday will tackle the use of child soldiers on multiple fronts: national legislation will criminalize the recruitment of children, child soldiers will be demobilized and reintegrated into their communities with the assistance of the UN, and finally, the UN will have unhampered access to the armed forces in order to check for children.
Not only does the recruitment, conscription or use of child soldiers contravene international human rights and humanitarian law (laws of warfare), the practices are considered to be among the worst forms of child labour in existence.
If Somalia’s transitional government can rid its armed forces of child soldiers, it will be removed from the “naming and shaming” list published annually by the UN. The list of parties using child soldiers appears each year in the UN Secretary-General’s Report to the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict. This year’s report lists forces in 52 countries.
The next step for Somalia, which has been without an effective central government for the better part of two decades, is to sign and ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its associated optional protocols. This was suggested the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy.
All countries in the world, save Somalia and the United States, have ratified the Convention—the most widely agreed-upon human rights treaty in the world. The Convention itself protects children under the age of 15 from participating in armed conflict, while one of the optional protocols extends protection to children under the age of 18.
Somalia’s Minister of Defence, Hussein Arab Isse, emphasized his government’s support for eliminating the use of child soldiers.
“Children of Somalia have witnessed so many horrors in this decades-old conflict, and have grown up in war—the government firmly believes that today's children and future generations must spend their childhood in schools, not barracks,” he said via a news release.