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HRW Asks for Support for Arrested Children in Somalia

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— Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on the Somali government to give three children arrested in Mogadishu Wednesday, for working with the al-Qaida-linked group al-Shabab, a fair trial and psychological support. The group also is calling on the government to stop using some of these children as informers.

After two suicide attacks, one targeting the newly elected president and the other targeting a restaurant in Mogadishu this month, Somali government forces have started carrying out searches of al-Shabab cells in Mogadishu that are still inflicting casualties on civilians and African Union and Somali military forces.

Door-to-door searches are proving very dangerous for security officials as they try to secure the capital despite al-Shabab withdrawing from Mogadishu more than a year ago.

On Wednesday, government forces arrested three teenage boys in Yaqshid district accused of planting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs.)

Security officials displayed the explosives and the school children to the local media. The Somali officials said they will hand over the youngsters to police and they will later be arraigned in court.

With al-Shabab's ranks dwindling, due to tension and in-fighting, a Human Rights Watch report released in February noted the militant group has increasingly recruited children to strengthen its numbers. Families and children that resist the recruitment drive face severe consequences and even death.

Laetitia Bader, a Human Rights Watch researcher, says the new government has to look for ways to integrate these children back into society.

"One thing we called on TFG [the Transitional Federal Somali government] and have continued to do so is that the detention of children should be the measure of last resort so really what needs to be priority for the current Somali authority is to basically make sure that these children are rehabilitated, reintegrated and imprisoning them would need to be the measure of last resort," she said.

The rights group is calling on the government to allow children to have access to legal assistance and psychological support while their trial is under way.

According to Bader, the Washington-based Human Rights Watch has expressed real worry about some of these detained children being used as informers by the government.

"It does seem that in the past some of the children which have alleged to be with al-Shabab that have been picked up by now what was the former Transitional Federal Government were actually being used by the security forces as informers and this is something we are very concerned about and continue to be concerned about and it needs to be very clear the government should not be using any children that they come across as informers," she said.

As the government promises to continue with the flushing out of al-Shabab remnants in bullet-riddled Mogadishu,  the Somali authorities will have to decide what they will do with hundreds of young children forcibly recruited by al-Shabab.

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