Bringing normalcy and new skills to youth in Somalia
UNICEF and partners support the release and reintegration of children and adolescents recruited by armed forces and groups.
Children and adolescents living among armed actors experience unconscionable forms of violence and witness horrors that no child should see. The toll this takes on their well-being – their safety, their mental and physical health, their relationships with families and communities – can be devastating.
Somalia has the highest number of abducted children in the world, and the second highest number of cases of child recruitment and use. Children living among armed actors in Somalia may be forced to participate in harrowing training or initiation ceremonies, to undergo hazardous labour, or to engage in combat – placing them at significant risk of death, chronic injury and disability. Girls, especially, can be subjected to gender-based violence.
UNICEF is working with partners in Somalia to support the release and reintegration of children who exit armed forces and groups – giving them a safe place for them to live upon release, as well as community-based services for case management, family tracing, reunification and psychosocial support. UNICEF also works with partners to provide young people with access to education, vocational training and other support to help them reintegrate into civilian life.
One of the organizations UNICEF works with is the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre, a long-standing UNICEF partner. The Centre, located in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, provides essential building blocks for the reintegration of children formerly associated with armed forces, helping them to regain their childhood, learn new skills, and contribute meaningfully to their communities.
“I’m happy with my training and hoping for a bright future,” says 18-year-old Mohamed*, who has been learning about electrical engineering. Developing marketable skills for economic independence and helping young people avoid negative coping mechanisms is an important part of the reintegration support.
UNICEF aims to empower children and youth who have exited armed groups, giving them a voice, and ensuring they find innovative solutions to problems affecting their communities.
Girls who have been associated with armed forces or armed groups are highly likely to have been subjected to gender-based violence, including sexual violence. Around 30 per cent of the children supported by the Centre are girls who are either formerly associated with armed groups or at risk of recruitment and abuse.
In addition to providing specialized support for survivors of gender-based violence and the opportunity to learn new skills, the Centre provides a safe space for girls to play, to socialize – to just be children again.
The youth empowerment component of the programme works to identify youth who are at risk of recruitment, engaging with social workers and guiding at-risk young people to make informed choices about the trade they want to pursue. Ongoing initiatives at Elman aim to empower youth by equipping them with helpful skills such as tailoring and modern design, auto mechanics, and how to operate a greenhouse to improve agricultural production.
The longer a child is separated from her or his family and community, the more difficult it is to locate them and the more at risk the child is to further violence, economic and sexual exploitation, abuse and potential trafficking. UNICEF therefore also supports community-based services for case management, family tracing and reunification in Somalia.
UNICEF’s partnership with the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre has assisted more than 15,000 children across conflict zones in Somalia over the past five years. Thanks to donors such as the Governments of Denmark and Sweden and USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance.