News / Africa

    Aid Workers Say Child Soldiers Involved in Escalating Somali Violence

    A young boy leads the hard-line Islamist Al Shabab fighters as they conduct military exercise in northern Mogadishu's Suqaholaha neighborhood, Somalia (File Photo)
    A young boy leads the hard-line Islamist Al Shabab fighters as they conduct military exercise in northern Mogadishu's Suqaholaha neighborhood, Somalia (File Photo)

    Aid workers and observers in Somalia say an increasing number of child soldiers are being used by factions involved in the escalating violence in the country. They say most of the children are recruited or abducted by the militant Islamic group al-Shabab and suffer horrendous experiences on the battlefield. 

    The United Nations children's agency, UNICEF, estimates that thousands of children as young as 10 years old are involved in the fighting.

    Isabella Castrogiovanni, head of the child protection unit at UNICEF Somalia, says the militant Islamic group al-Shabab recruits most of the minors.

    She says the group gets children from schools, villages, and other communities, increasingly by force. She says that in one campaign, al-Shabab officials pressure families to hand over at least one of their children.

    Once in the ranks, Castrogiovanni says children and other recruits have mobile phones containing short video clips to motivate them to fight. She describes one clip that she has seen.

    "It's basically one al-Shabab fighter who died and there are many people around him including very young people, and there is somebody who is sitting next to the body and just saying, you know, repeating over and over again, this person [who] has died is a martyr, he has died for the cause, he will go to heaven, and then again this mantra of the infidels, the jihad, the obligation to fight for the jihad, and so on," said Castrogiovanni.

    She says Somalia's government, commonly called the TFG, also uses minors. Castrogiovanni says she thinks this is mostly because the TFG does not have proper structures and procedures to determine the real age of recruits.

    "I mean, we are not talking of a national army the way other countries do have a national army, meaning a very structured, controlled, centralized, and everybody is registered," she added. "There are several militia groups which are loosely associated with the TFG but maybe they are not accountable to the central TFG command structure."

    It is rare that al-Shabab talks to the press. There have been many independent reports of the group recruiting child soldiers.

    Somali Ambassador to Kenya Mohamed Ali Nur tells VOA the the Somali government has a strict policy of not using child soldiers.

    "We have [a] committee in the forces who [are] just making sure that soldiers, if recruited, that they [committee] check how old [is] that boy or girl, and make sure that they are not underage," said nur.

    In recent months, fighting has intensified between al-Shabab and the TFG. The United States considers al-Shabab a terrorist group linked to al-Qaida. The TFG was formed years ago through an international process to bring stability to the volatile country.

    The African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM, has contributed troops to help stabilize the country and protect the government against al-Shabab attacks.

    AMISOM spokesman Major Barigye Bahoku tells VOA most of the child soldiers his troops encounter say they were kidnapped by al-Shabab from Islamic schools and forced to fight. He says some parents who ask about their children or try to rescue them are killed.

    Major Bahoku says at least three children every month surrender to AMISOM. He says the children describe horrific experiences.

    " ...witnessing their comrades dying on the front line, how they are buried in shallow graves, how those who try to defect or run away are killed," he said. "It’s a horrendous situation."

    Major Bahoku says his troops also encounter children firing on the battlefield.

    "We try the best we can under the circumstances," he said. "If we are able to identify that these are underage children, we will possibly give them preference and maybe shout orders out to them to put down their guns and run away. Unfortunately we have got a language barrier problem."

    UNICEF Somalia's Castrogiovanni says when children are in the line of fire, they are killed, maimed, or captured and jailed, with some lucky ones escaping. She says this is, in her words, "the worst one can imagine."

    Somalia has been at war since dictator Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora