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The continuing ordeal of a group of former child combatants in Somalia

UNICEF Somalia/2017/Coursin
© UNICEF Somalia/2017/Coursin
Former child abductee Aden (name changed) and his colleagues in a class at a UNICEF-supported rehabilitation center for child soldiers in Garowe,

Garowe, Puntland, Somalia, November 2017 - The number of children in Somalia recruited by armed groups reached over 1900 last year – double the number of 2015. The majority of them were recruited by the armed Al Shabaab group. However the children’s problems do not end even if they manage to escape from the group and they often encounter suspicion or hostility.

17-year-old Aden (not his real name) was among a group of children abducted or lured into the militant Al Shabaab group which, last year, attacked a coastal town in Puntland.

His uncle tricked him into joining the group by pretending they were going out to dinner but then taking him to an Al Shabaab military base.

“The militia men were masked. I was so scared. One of the fighters told me to calm down and feel relaxed. He told me, we are like your brothers and you are here to defend your country.”

Aden and several other boys were then trained on how to use a gun and a few days later, were told that they had to go with the Al-Shabaab fighters by boat to Puntland in north east Somalia where Al-Shabaab launched an attack.

Aden was instructed to carry food and water to the Al-Shabaab fighters. After a night of fighting some of the Al Shabab fighters escaped, while others, including the boys were captured. The Somali security forces overcame the militants, and among those captured was a group of 66 boys under the age of 18. 

UNICEF Somalia/2017/Coursin
© UNICEF Somalia/2017/Coursin
Students living at a UNICEF-supported rehabilitation center for child soldiers play football together during class break in Garowe, Somalia.

The authorities allowed the boys under the age of 15 to be transferred to a UNICEF Centre in Mogadishu but Aden was among the 40 older boys sentenced to between 10 - 20 years imprisonment. Following intense advocacy from the UN and international community the boys were transferred to a new UNICEF supported rehabilitation centre in Garowe although their prison sentences remain and their legal status is unclear.

“I was so scared when I was taken to prison,” says Aden. “Now I am at the centre and I get food, shelter and an education and I also get to speak to my mother and father every day.”

Aden says that when he first spoke to his mother she could not speak and sobbed on the phone as she was so overwhelmed that her son was still alive.

At the centre, the boys are receiving psycho-social support in order to overcome their ordeal.

“At first, many of the boys, including Aden, did not talk much or interact,” says Mohamoud Ali Yusuf, UNICEF Child Protection Specialist in Puntland. “But they have readjusted and are interacting with each other. All of them are determined to study and return home.”

“I am safe here and I am learning so much,” says Aden. “But when I get home, I am going to study hard and then I want to become a business man and create opportunities for young people.” 

 

 
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