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Somali Militias Recruiting Child Soldiers, New Report Finds

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

Children as young as eight years old have been recruited to fight in Somalia's ongoing civil war, according to a report published by Amnesty International, Wednesday.

Recruiters lure or kidnap children

Amnesty says most of the young soldiers recruited are between the ages of 10 and 17. Some, it says, are lured from their homes by promises of gifts like mobile phones. Others, it says, are kidnapped.

Amnesty's Benedicte Goderiaux told VOA that one girl said her school was raided by the militant Islamist group al-Shabab.

“One child told us for instance that she was at school and her school was raided by armed groups so that they could take children away, presumably to take them to a training camp and to train them into fighting. She said that one teacher who tried to oppose the abduction of children was killed,” Goderiaux said.

Basis for report

The 90-page report is based on 200 interviews with Somalis who had fled to neighboring countries.

Civil war and lawlessness have plagued Somalia since the fall of the last stable government in 1991. The situation has been made worse by severe drought and high food prices that have led to famine conditions in parts of the country.

“A combination of conflict, drought, and lack of access to humanitarian aid is really making the situation absolutely unbearable for children,” Goderiaux explained.

The Amnesty report says most child soldiers are recruited by al-Shabab. But it says the Transitional Federal Government, TFG, which is supported by the international community, also has children fighting for it. The TFG denies this.

African Union

Roger Middleton, a Horn of Africa expert at the London-based research group Chatham House, says the African Union should use its influence with the TFG. The AU Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM, is the only international peacekeeping force in Somalia.

“The AU needs to put as much pressure as it can on the TFG to make sure it is not recruiting child soldiers and to use its influence. Because the reality is if AMISOM were to leave - highly unlikely scenario, but if it were to leave -- that would be the end of the TFG,” Middleton said.

He says the broader international community, which funds the TFG, should also be making sure children are protected. At this point though, he says, international governments have few options.

"The problem for the international community is that they do not have a Plan B beyond the TFG, they have not got that far. And they need to start thinking about it," he stated.

The Amnesty report cites the recruitment of children by armed groups as one of the reasons so many Somalis are fleeing southern and central Somalia.

Amnesty International video on Child Soldier recruitment in Somalia