Lagos, Nigeria (PANA) - Somalia’s warring parties have all failed to protect Somali children from the fighting or serving in their forces, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released Tuesday.
It said the Islamist insurgent group al-Shabaab had increasingly targeted children for recruitment, forced marriage, and rape, and attacked teachers and schools.
“For children in Somalia, nowhere is safe,” an HRW statement obtained by PANA in Lagos Tuesday quoted Zama Coursen-Neff, deputy children’s rights director at HRW, as saying. “Al-Shabaab rebels have abducted children from their homes and schools to fight, for rape, and for forced marriage.”
According to the statement, the 104-page report, entitled “No Place for Children: Child Recruitment, Forced Marriage, and Attacks on Schools in Somalia,” details unlawful recruitment and other laws-of-war violations against children by all parties to the conflict in Somalia since 2010.
The report is based on over 164 interviews with Somali children, including 21 who had escaped from al-Shabaab forces, as well as parents and teachers who had fled to Kenya.
Human Rights Watch called on all parties to the conflict, involving Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and African Union forces (AMISOM) against al-Shabaab, to release any child soldiers in their ranks, protect children formerly associated with fighting forces, and protect schools, teachers, and students from attack.
Since Somalia’s conflict intensified in 2010 and 2011, al-Shabaab has increasingly forced children, some as young as 10, to join its dwindling ranks. They are usually sent to the front lines after weeks of harsh training, and some serve as “cannon fodder” to protect adult on the front lines.
Others have been coerced into becoming suicide bombers.
Al-Shabaab has also abducted girls for domestic and front-line service, as well as to be wives to al-Shabaab fighters. Families who try to prevent their children’s recruitment or abduction by al-Shabaab, or children who attempt to escape, face severe consequences and even death.
HRW also said the TFG military and militias aligned with it were deploying children in their forces despite commitments from Somali officials since late 2010 to end the recruitment and use of children.
“Al-Shabaab’s horrific abuses do not excuse Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government’s use of children as soldiers,” Coursen-Neff said. “The TFG should live up to its commitments to stop recruiting and using children as soldiers, and punish those who do. Governments backing the TFG should make clear that these abuses won’t be tolerated.”
The New York-based rights group also called on the TFG, its allied militias, and the African Union troops to identify schools in areas of their military operations, including outside of Mogadishu, to minimize the risk to them.
It urged intergovernmental institutions and governments, including states in the region, to place children’s protection and other human rights concerns high on the agenda when they meet in London to discuss the Somalia crisis on 23 February, 2012.
“If world leaders meeting in London want to address Somalia’s future, it’s crucial for them to protect this shattered generation of children from further horror and invest in their education and security,” Coursen-Neff said.
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