An American newspaper reports that Somalia's government is using child soldiers in its fight against Islamist militant groups.
The New York Times quotes United Nations officials and Somali human rights groups as saying the government is fielding hundreds of children, some as young as nine, on the front lines.
The paper also reports that the United States, a strong backer of the government, is helping to pay the soldiers.
The Somali transitional government is battling Islamist insurgents who now control most of the capital, Mogadishu, and large parts of southern and central Somalia.
U.N. and human rights officials say the insurgents use child soldiers to an even greater extent. The Times quotes a leader of the Somali Elman Peace and Human Rights Center as saying children make up about 20 percent of government troops but about 80 percent of the rebels.
The international Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits the use of soldiers younger than 15. Only two countries have not ratified the treaty: Somalia and the United States.