Warlords Recruit Somali Child Soldiers

29/7/2009 - As if children in Somalia do not face enough dangers from a lack of food and water or political violence, they also face the dangers of being recruited or abducted into armed militias.

In Somalia, it is commonplace for a child as young as eight years old to disappear. Where do they go?  The BBC reports that these children – some drugged, some brainwashed, and some paid a monthly lump sum of $50 – are recruited into Somali militias. Up and down Mogadishu’s streets and markets, roam young children, AK47s slung over their shoulders.

Non-state militia groups such as al-Shabab are believed by some Somali residents to be targeting the children of the country’s most poor in particular. Poverty-wracked populations live on the fringes of society, leaving them immensely vulnerable.

While the use of children in combat is not a new occurrence in Somalia, one child charity and child rights organization commented that the scale and frequency of recruitment is growing – a worrisome trend. For instance, earlier in June, forces in Mogadishu rescued five child soldiers. 

As of reports made earlier this month, the fighting in Mogadishu has forced 200 000 to seek refuge in safer places.

Navi  Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, only a few weeks ago said, “In this new wave of attacks, it is clear that civilians – especially women and children – are bearing the brunt of the violence.”

The use of children under 15 years old (and under 18 years old according to many nation-states who have ratified an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child) is prohibited by international human rights law.

Unfortunately, there remains today, an estimated 300 000 child soldiers around the world. The persistent trade in small or light arms to third world countries – in particular the AK47 – means that it is easy to arm young boys and girls. Child soldiers have been used in countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Colombia, Afghanistan and Burma. Children are usually trained and traumatized, told they will be killed or otherwise harmed if they disobey a superior or attempt to escape. Often, they are alienated from their homes, family and friends as they can be made to kill members of their own communities.

However, there are rehabilitation centres in many countries across the world. In Somalia, the Marka Militia Rehabilitation Center, funded in part by the European Union, attempts to help former soldiers’ emotional and psychological wellbeing and help them re-integrate into society.