Safer cities, safer lives: no more child soldiers in Somalia

In a rare visit to the Somali capital by a senior United Nations official, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, announced on Thursday that she had secured a commitment from the Prime Minister and President of Somalia to end the recruitment of children by the Transitional Federal Government.

"Completion of an action plan will ensure that the TFG is child-free," said Ms. Coomaraswamy who also met with child escapees from the Al-Shabaab militant group. "It will allow the United Nations to remove the Government from the 'list of shame' of parties that commit grave violations against children."

Both the transitional government and Al Shabaab are listed in the United Nations Secretary-General's Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict for recruiting and using child soldiers. Under Security Council resolution 1612 (2005), listed parties must sign and implement action plans to end this grave violation or face the possibility of Security Council sanctions. In June of this year, the Security Council expanded the criteria for sanctionable offenses in Somalia to include grave violations against children.

Ms. Coomaraswamy said President Sharif Sheik Ahmed, Prime Minister Dr. Abduli Mohammed Ali, and Minister of Defense Hussein Arab Essa had recommitted their government to the signing and implementation of a Security Council mandated plan to end the recruitment and use of children by its forces, and pledged to immediately nominate military and civilian officials to work with the United Nations towards this end.

In downtown Mogadishu, she visited a camp for Al Shabaab defectors, some 37 former Al Shabaab child soldiers. There, she met Ismael (name changed), a 16-year-old boy who had managed to escape the armed group after being trained as a suicide bomber and crippled by fighting between the Al Shabaab and transitional government forces.

"Ismael's case highlights the fact that children associated with Al Shabaab are victims. They must be transferred rapidly to civilian child protection actors, and be separated as soon as possible from adult Al Shabaab ex-combatants in order to begin the transition back to civilian life," said Ms. Coomaraswamy.

Ms. Coomaraswamy urged all United Nations partners to work closely with the transitional government, donors and AMISOM, the African Union Mission in Somalia, to step up prevention of child recruitment and the release and reintegration of children formerly associated with armed forces and groups. "With Mogadishu more secure following the withdrawal of Al Shabaab, the onus is on the international community to assist the Government's efforts toward stability," she said.

Earlier in the week, Ms. Coomaraswamy signed an action plan to end of recruitment and use of children by forces in Central African Republic.