Al-Shabaab militants increase child recruitment in Somalia

By Mahmoud Mohamed in Mogadishu

January 16, 2012

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Reports from the Somali Transitional Federal Government, human rights organisations and local residents indicate that al-Qaeda affiliated militants have stepped up forced and systematic recruitment of children since fighting escalated in Somalia last October.

  • A young al-Shabaab fighter shows a wound on his hand that he suffered battling Somali government forces on the frontlines in Mogadishu in 2009. [Mohamed Dahir/AFP]

    A young al-Shabaab fighter shows a wound on his hand that he suffered battling Somali government forces on the frontlines in Mogadishu in 2009. [Mohamed Dahir/AFP]

Local officials and residents told Sabahi that al-Shabaab fighters have been roaming the streets in vehicles equipped with loudspeakers, calling for residents, especially children, to join them in the fighting.

"The recruitment of children in Somalia by armed groups has grown considerably since the fighting escalated in October, and the number of child soldiers involved in the fighting is increasing day by day," said Abdirizakh Sheikh, an official at a children's rights organisation in Somalia.

Sheikh said children are used as participants in the fighting or as transporters of supplies, ammunition and food during fighting.

"The recruitment of children stems in part from the unwillingness of adults to join the Islamist militants and the fact that underage children are easily lured with false promises or gifts, such as mobile phones," he said. "In many cases, the recruitment of children is forced, and in rural villages, gunmen give poor families facing hardship bags of food in return for sending their children to training camps."

Al-Shabaab targets school children, bribes poor families

According to human-rights groups and child-protection agencies, the number of parents and guardians who have reported the disappearance of their children is rising at an alarming rate.

Faduma, a 48-year-old mother of four, told Sabahi that her 16-year-old son was kidnapped and forcibly recruited by al-Shabaab militants.

"My son went to school and was kidnapped on his way back home," she said. "I searched for him for three weeks, and finally got a phone call from him telling me he was in a training camp. I could hear shooting during the call. He told me he was going to participate in the fighting. He is very young; how can he participate in the fighting? I want them to release my son immediately."

Faduma requested that her full name not be used for her family's safety because her son is still with al-Shabaab.

"There are a lot of mothers like me looking for their children who were taken away by al-Shabaab militants," she said.

Abdullahi Abdinuur, 46, a father of six from an area controlled by al-Shabaab, said, "When Kenyan troops entered Somali territory and the fighting in southern Somalia escalated, the al-Shabaab movement resorted to forcibly kidnapping young men and school children to recruit them and make them participate in the fighting."

"In some cases, al-Shabaab leaders have demanded that fathers send their children to training camps and that school teachers force their students to memorise the Qur'an. They have also demanded that teachers in some schools send students to training camps in order to carry out operations and participate in the war," Abdinuur said.

"We fear the consequences of refusing their demands, so we send our children to areas outside the control of the movement so they do not fall in the hands of the militants," he said.

Children pay the price of war

Abdirahman Wabber of the Somali Peace Line human rights and child protection organisation told Sabahi that poverty and lack of education are the main factors for the increase in child soldiers in Somalia. He said a lack of education has exposed thousands of Somali children to the risk of falling into the hands of militants.

Wabber said his organisation is conducting awareness campaigns in schools and camps for displaced people to try to prevent the recruitment of children by armed groups. He called for greater efforts to put an end to the use of children in armed conflict in Somalia.

Omar Ugaas, who works for a local organisation that monitors the status of children in Somalia, said, "The greatest danger facing children in Somalia is forced recruitment by the parties to the conflict, especially the al-Shabaab movement, the biggest offender with regard to the recruitment of children."

Ugaas said children are paying a heavy price in the ongoing war in Somalia, as they have become an easy target for Islamist militants seeking to recruit them. He said that forced recruitment of children is legally and humanely reprehensible.

"The recruitment of underage children and putting them in the line of fire is a most serious violation of international law; it is, in fact, a war crime," he said. "All parties to the conflict must be aware of this fact. But it is clear that al-Shabaab movement resorts to desperate measures, such as recruiting children, whenever it is under pressure from the Somali armed forces and their allies, because the movement suffers a shortage of fighters."

Children's rights organisations say the exact number of children recruited by armed groups is unknown. Ugaas said this is because al-Shabaab does not allow human rights organisations to inspect their military positions.

Some human rights groups estimate that child soldiers make up 75% of all al-Shabaab fighters. Dozens of child soldiers are often seen manning al-Shabaab checkpoints and camps, and fighting on the front lines.

Al-Shabaab says children fight willingly

Al-Shabaab admits to the presence of child soldiers in its ranks, but says they are volunteers.

Abdulkadir Abu Maath, an al-Shabaab leader, told Sabahi, "There are children participating in jihad with us, but no one forced them to join the fighting. They are driven by their resolve to participate in jihad to defend the religion and confront the invading enemy."

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a leading figure in al-Shabaab, also previously admitted in a speech at a mosque in the Eilasha area near Mogadishu that al-Shabaab is using underage children in the war against the forces of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

"Children are participating in a major way in the jihad against the enemy and are willing to die in defence of their country and their religion," he said.

TFG: We want children to build a bright future for Somalia

In a recent statement, the TFG denounced the forced recruitment of hundreds of children and students by al-Shabaab. The statement said the Somali government affirms its primary role in providing protection for all children, particularly those affected by armed conflict.

The TFG called on the international community to assist in the rescue of Somali children from extremism by providing support for rehabilitation programs for children affected by armed conflict, creating and providing opportunities for education and decent living, and providing support for their mental health.

"Let us be very clear: the Somali government is absolutely opposed to the use of children in armed conflict," Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali told reporters in Mogadishu last November. "We want children to go to schools and build a bright future for themselves and for the country."

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Reader's Comments

  • koros
    July 29, 2014 @ 01:55:09AM

    this is bad

  • charles
    April 22, 2012 @ 03:20:20AM

    cant the unicef do somthing

  • Msemaovyo
    March 29, 2012 @ 03:50:46PM

    I imagine that most of these criminals, above all the leaders of al-Shabaab criminal movemnet, have got children and relatives. Why don't they send their children to the front? It's amazing that they use the name of "Allah" to massacre the innocent children in two sides -by capturing, misguiding or buying them chaeply or by bombing them in the hands of their mother. Which God do they beleive in. Shame on you!

  • Abdi
    March 24, 2012 @ 12:45:07AM

    All monotheistic religions do not condone any form of terrorism, and honestly the worst form of terrorism is the one targeting ideological conversion. Because it is like a disease which spreads in a community, and it is very hard to overcome it. It is imperative that people join hands in order to overcome it by educating the people on the dangers of such ideologies through liberating the minds of the people especially the children. This can be achieved by teaching them about the Islamic law as it is and protecting them from misguided ideologies.

  • abdullrazaqahmed
    March 23, 2012 @ 12:18:03AM

    as an arabs wise man once hayata li man tonaadi....those ugly and unwanted scenes are going to live on and after all of millions and millions of years of living upon this planet we have no other solution but to whine on such a websites about how hard this life is or about how unfair it is for those childs.... i really wish if those were your brothers and sisters.......your sons and daughters...your nephwes i really wishs if they are some one whom you really love to you can understand the way that it make you feel in real term............i really wish so

  • abdi shakuur daa uud
    March 21, 2012 @ 07:39:14AM

    al shabaab is the rigth all parts in somalia so the persons that are says al shabaab is parisy i think that they are not muslims thanks;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;

  • Rajabu Juma Akarro
    March 20, 2012 @ 08:11:08AM

    What is the problem Is it really liberation or just lust for power

    March 20, 2012 @ 07:51:35AM

    How come the recruitment is going on and yet I thought the presence of KDF and TFG and the AMISON were dealing with the militans.I hate to here this.The somali people should help forces to counter this criminals.Children should be given their rights to education and many more.If this i the case then the war should be over soon.I imagine the army fighting kids...........Its a pity

  • charles muchina
    March 20, 2012 @ 03:14:46AM

    The most sure way to keep children soldiers out of this conflict is to tell them the truth, that is noone can defend GOD or religion and that nobody is intrested in changing them from being muslims to christians.Religion is of the spirit and that fight must be fought spiritually so that the youth will not be confused that they are defending their religion when in fact they defending terrorists and non muslims killer brigades without any vision of the nation Somalia nor of themselves.

  • Obasi
    March 20, 2012 @ 01:27:45AM

    These are actually moving devils! They do not have any sense of thinking! I do believe that they do not have any children for if they had, then this could not be happening! When the future population is finished whom will they rule if ever they will!

  • valerie
    March 19, 2012 @ 08:37:00AM

    oh! what a pity, this just shows the end of times. we are crying for our Nations, children, Young people, may God interveane before we are doomed for our own children will destroy us. Oh my!

  • Jashon
    March 19, 2012 @ 08:26:39AM

    what do we do to stop this, i just wish i had wings to rescue those innocent small boys myself.its of my view that we get rid of the whole shabaab manace for this children tommorow holds alot for them.

  • Abbas
    March 19, 2012 @ 07:07:29AM

    Religion the best opium for the poor shame on the Islamic religious leaders who have continually achieved their selfish and barbaric goals in name of jihad if Allah is all powerful then he doesn't require your silly ideologies of violence shame on Islamic courts of Somalia, doesn't the TFG and SNA read same Qur'an and hadith why do they have value for children and weak in society. We thank those Islam brothers who have preached the message of Allah how it is, Allah is peace and his message is based on peace,shame on Alshabab & Alquidah u will never see heaven but i promise you hell for killing Innocent kids & women

  • edwin nyakwara
    March 19, 2012 @ 06:12:59AM

    It is inhuman to misuse children's rights and freedom

  • Edson Gwako
    March 19, 2012 @ 02:18:23AM


  • Anselim N.Lymo
    March 18, 2012 @ 05:32:19AM

    United Nations send soldiers to Somalia to chase those Al-Shabaab insurgents just as you did for Libya. Or there is no oil in Somalia?

  • Alice Nyaga
    March 16, 2012 @ 10:18:00AM

    Jesus Christ! Child abuse a regret.

  • jackson. k. yego
    March 16, 2012 @ 05:21:16AM

    Oh my, if the UN approved the ouster of Gadaffi and billions of dollars used to bomb the whole of libya why not approve to send the whole of the african army to somalia to do a door to door compact and get these mad devils out of somalia. Very unfortunate the whole world is just watching......... but let us pray for Somalia that God will come in for them

  • Harrison Yego
    March 16, 2012 @ 04:02:50AM

    Soon there will be a generational gap in Somalia as the young generation wil be lost in the war.Development in the country wil not be possible to achieve but wil just be a dream.

  • kipang
    March 15, 2012 @ 10:06:58AM

    its disastrious to here about that

  • Hegneous Machio.
    March 15, 2012 @ 05:41:50AM

    Love and justice are the real arbiters of all disputes. Give them a chance and you will no longer want to defeat a brother sojourned by the wayside of life nor even want to cause hurm to any.My dear friends always remember that peace is the source of life.

  • John
    March 14, 2012 @ 05:29:43AM

    Its sad that Somali has degenerated this far. Its the responsibility of the international community to bring sanity in Somalia. Government of Kenya (KDF) has paved the way.

  • Allan
    March 13, 2012 @ 08:23:38AM

    I think why they target the youths is that the youths go looking for jobs and end up in the force so the Gov't should reduce the hustle stuff and less will be recruited by the Al-shabab. Thank you.

  • victor
    March 12, 2012 @ 05:51:48AM

    There is no way an ill minded al - shabaab can differentiate between children and an adult, in this case we need to encourage there elimination and not just. the U N and the able organizations are requested to move in and save the situation before it get worse on those kids because for one thing am sure about is the kids taken to front line and this means to sacrifice them. painful!!!

  • fredric Ochieng
    March 11, 2012 @ 01:55:10AM

    Children are paying a heavy price in the ongoing war in Somalia, as they have become an easy target for Islamist militants seeking to recruit them. we should find any possible means to get rid of this stupid enemies not to take advantages of using kid who might be even in future bring stability in somalia.This is nonsense and they should know that recruitment of children is legal

  • patrick kanyi
    March 10, 2012 @ 05:24:09AM

    Oh my, if the UN approved the ouster of Gadaffi and billions of dollars used to bomb the whole of libya why not approve to send the whole of the african army to somalia to do a door to door compact and get these mad devils out of somalia. Very unfortunate the whole world is just watching......... but let us pray for Somalia that God will come in for them.

  • Aron Evans
    March 9, 2012 @ 06:48:41AM

    It beates my emagination if the Government in the whole world can accommodate all this trush of child labour in somalia.Anyway desparate moments call's for desparate desisions, this children must be poor and desparate.The TFG to rescue the situation before the country loose future leaders of the Somalia Nation.

  • moi
    March 8, 2012 @ 01:59:09PM

    I never thought that there is media in somalia reporting chidren abuses.Recruiting children for fighting in wars contravenes the international conventions of children rights.The UN should move with speed to support TFG in stopping these menace.

  • baraka
    March 8, 2012 @ 12:18:23AM

    The international community should fund NGOs to enlighten the community and children the dangers of Al shabab

  • ME
    March 7, 2012 @ 09:54:40AM


  • jason mogaka rena
    March 4, 2012 @ 03:14:29AM

    my suggetion is that this al-shabaab must stop using this young persons in fighting with the kenyan force,cause this young people have their wonderfull future to stay as people from west countries.mine is to request the unity nations, to intervern in to stop kind of mistreatment to the somalian people. this is engireen jason mogaka rena from kisii town

  • sylvester
    March 3, 2012 @ 10:17:13AM


  • Timothy
    February 23, 2012 @ 09:03:32AM

    Governments and local organizations should as a matter of urgency establish rehabilitation programs to reintegrate child soldiers back to their communities. This could be with support of international organizations. The rehabilitation programs should be able to cater for for all the needs of these children including their education, psycho social support and vocational and livelihood support. I am based in Hargeisa can can assist in development of a viable rehabilitation program. Any organization or individual with similar views can contact me at [email protected]

  • jordan omino
    February 21, 2012 @ 10:54:31AM

    The article is very much ok!, but one thing that i`ve come to hate is child abuse by Al-shabaab group. They should let the youth grow and build a brighter, healthier somali of tomorrow. The TFG should move with speed to release and protect the now prisonned somali youth in their own country and give better affordable education, healthcare and all that is required for a better nation.

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