The United Nations confirmed this week that the Somalia-based al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab is forcing civilians to surrender hundreds of children from their community for “indoctrination” and “recruitment” to become jihadis.
Al-Shabaab is using threats of reprisals to coerce clan elders and parents to hand over their children, the U.N. revealed in a report issued Tuesday. The report covered activities in 2018.
Virginia Gamba, the U.N. special representative for the office that authored the report, told reporters this week that Somalia is the worst offender of all “grave violations” against children.
The U.N. report covers 20 countries at war or in a state of conflict. U.N. investigators verified more than 24,000 violations against children last year in those countries.
Violations highlighted in the study include killing, maiming, sexual abuse, kidnappings, recruitment, and attacks on schools and hospitals. A record 12,000 children were reportedly killed and maimed across the globe last year.
“Without a doubt, the one situation that really comes to my mind is the worst one — the one we have to do our utmost to reverse — is Somalia,” Gamba said.
Voice of America (VOA) further noted:
[Gamba] told reporters that the number of violations across all categories there is very high, providing a worrying picture. She said there is also a lack of engagement with the United Nations to improve protections for children, and she said she hopes to visit Somalia in the next two months to see if there is any possibility to open a dialogue.
The U.N. identified the Somali National Army as well as terrorist groups such as the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabab and its Sufi rival Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama’a (ASWJ) as perpetrators of the violations against children.
In 2018, Somalia was home to the highest number of child recruitment, sexual abuse, and abductions. Al-Shabaab was behind the vast majority of those acts.
Soon after taking office, U.S. President Donald Trump intensified American airstrikes against al-Shabaab, launching a record number that has killed and wounded hundreds of jihadis.
In May, Somali-born Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) complained about President Donald Trump’s airstrike campaign against al-Shabaab jihadis.
Echoing the findings of a January 2018 report issued by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the U.N. noted:
A total of 2,228 boys and 72 girls, some as young as 8, were recruited and used by parties to [the] conflict [in Somalia]. The recruitment of children by Al-Shabaab significantly increased (1,865) compared with 2017 as the group sustained its recruitment drive, including by forcing clan elders and parents to provide children or face reprisal.
A total of 1,609 children (1,479 boys, 130 girls), some as young as 8, were verified as abducted, 97 percent of them by Al-Shabaab (1,590) mainly for the purpose of recruitment and use. …The children were taken to a training facility for indoctrination and subsequent recruitment.
Hundreds of Somali children also fell victim to sexual violence, most at the hands of local security forces, not al-Shabaab.
“The highest verified figures for violations relating to sexual violence continue to be documented in Somalia (331),” the U.N. said, adding:
The United Nations verified incidents of sexual violence affecting 328 girls and 3 boys, attributed to unidentified armed elements (114), Somali National Army (50), Al-Shabaab (46), clan militias (42), Jubbaland forces (31), Galmudug forces (14), Somali police (13), Southwest forces (10), Ethiopian Liyu Police (6), Puntland forces (3), and Ethiopian National Defense Forces (2).
U.N. investigators revealed that al-Shabaab was also the chief perpetrator behind the killing and maiming of children in Somalia.
Of the 781 boys and 260 girls killed and wounded in Somali last year, al-Shabaab is responsible for 437, or 40 percent.
Security forces from Somalia and neighboring countries, as well as clan militias, were reportedly responsible for most of the remaining casualties.
“Most child casualties resulted from crossfire, targeted killings, aerial bombardments, improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks,” the U.N. declared.
Al-Shabaab was also responsible for 61 (about 80 percent) of the 77 attacks on schools and half of the 14 assaults on hospitals in Somalia last year.
“Incidents included killing, abduction, and threats against teachers, destruction, and looting,” the U.N. report said.
U.N. investigators also attributed most (41 or about 55 percent) of the 74 incidents of denial of humanitarian access to al-Shabaab.
The U.N. report also shed light on the “detention of children for their alleged association with Al-Shabaab,” noting that “360 boys and 15 girls [are] affected.”
U.N. investigators called “on authorities to treat these children primarily as victims, to prioritize their reintegration in line with their best interests, and to respect due process and international juvenile justice standards.”