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Child Soldiers Being Recruited in Somalia, Say Humanitarian Agencies

There’s word Friday from aid agencies that children are being used as child soldiers in Somalia. UNICEF and Save the Children are calling on armed groups to release any children from their ranks or detention centers.

Christian Balslev-Olesen is UNICEF’s representative to Somalia. From Nairobi, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the plight of children in Somalia.

“We have, unfortunately, a number of reports from Somalia reporting on children directly involved in the conflict as part of the militia. We have a number of reports of harassment, shootings, killings. We have reports that in some IDP (internally displaced persons) camps there’s been shooting affecting children. We have reports that in many places actually parents do not dare to send their children to school. So it’s not just individual children and families. It is a report from many parts of the country that people and especially children and women are directly affected by what is going on,” he says.

As for child soldiers, Balslev-Olesen says, “We have during the past month of conflict unfortunately seen and documented situations where children have been forced out of schools to join the militia of the ICU (Islamic Courts Union). We have reports of warlords…coming back to places in Somalia. We are seeing the bad habits of the past that children are part of the militia of the warlords. We have heard about children being detained. We have a number of cases where families with children have not been able to cross into Kenya to become refugees.”

He says humanitarian agencies have called upon Somali authorities and the international community to help make sure children are not used as soldiers, and to adhere to the principles of the Geneva Conventions and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.