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

Video Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid