After alarming rise, UNICEF calls for release of Somali child soldiers
NEW YORK, NY, USA, 7 May 2010 – As reports warn of an alarming rise in the recruitment of child soldiers in Somalia, UNICEF and the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict are calling on all parties to put an immediate end to this criminal practice.
According to a joint statement issued this week by UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake and Special Representative Radhika Coomaraswamy, “Children forced to put on a uniform and carry a gun suffer psychological and often physical damage, and without assistance may grow to become instigators of violence, including recruiters of child soldiers, as adults.”
Parties using children as soldiers must release them immediately, Mr. Lake and Ms. Coomaraswamy insisted, adding that UNICEF and the office of the Special Representative stand ready to assist in the demobilization of recruited children.
As the fighting in Somalia has intensified recently, so have the number of children being recruited into the country’s numerous armed groups. According to UNICEF Representative in Somalia Rozanne Chorlton, the country’s dire economic situation could be exacerbating the situation by forcing some children to undertake desperate measures.
“The use of child soldiers is a tragedy for Somalia right now,” read the joint statement. “Unless urgent action is taken, it may also threaten the country’s future stability. Children and young people are the majority of the population of Somalia and they deserve a childhood free from the terrors of armed conflict."
Soldiers as young as nine
Recent reports indicate that children as young as nine years of age are being used by multiple armed groups across Somalia, and that some schools are being used as recruitment centres.
UNICEF has also received reports of children being beaten or executed once captured by opposing parties to the conflict. The use of children by armed forces and groups is a war crime under any circumstances. In its statement, UNICEF called on all parties to immediately end the practice and release or discharge all child soldiers immediately.
The statement also called on the international community, including those providing support to parties in Somalia, to unanimously condemn the use of child soldiers.
The psycho-social impacts of warfare on children are severe. Child soldiers are often left frightened, traumatized and desensitized to violence, and the long-term effects of the practice on Somali society could be devastating.
“In the southern and central part of Somalia, there are no children who have had the experience of living in peace,” said Ms. Chorlton. “How Somalia will be able to restore the processes and structures and practice of dealing with issues in peaceful ways is very concerning.”
Even aside from the challenge of demobilizing child soldiers and supporting their reintegration back into society, the situation in Somalia is dire. Nineteen per cent of children under five are acutely malnourished, with acute malnutrition rates in some areas reaching 27 per cent. Some 3.6 million people in the country rely on humanitarian assistance to survive. Humanitarian organizations continue working to reach all those in need.