Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP/File
Al Shabab fighters conduct a military exercise in northern Mogadishu, Somalia, on Jan. 1. The UN Security Council this week condemned Somalia and others for their use of child soldiers.

UN condemns Somalia's use of child soldiers, but US aid still flows

Both the insurgent group Al Shabab and the US-backed Somali government rely on children to fill their ranks, human rights officials say.

The United States this week joined other members of the United Nations Security Council in condemning the growing use of children in conflict – as soldiers, bomb makers, cooks, and sex slaves – by rebel groups and governments alike.

Yet even as the US singles out Somalia as one of the world’s worst child-soldier offenders, mounting evidence suggests the US-backed Somali government is using child soldiers in its fight with the Islamist-militant Al Shabab group.

And that in turn has some experts concluding that the US assistance is paying the pittance salaries of Somali child soldiers.

At Tuesday’s Security Council debate on children and armed conflict, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said the US is “particularly concerned about the situation in Somalia,” where she said all parties to the conflict have “placed several thousand children in the line of fire.”

The US, she said, calls on the parties to the conflict to cease child recruitment and to release those children already in the fight.

But both the US-backed Somali transitional federal government and the rebels the government is battling rely on children to fill out their soldier ranks, say UN and non-governmental human rights officials. The government has a force that is up to one-quarter children, experts estimate, while children may make up as much as three-quarters of Al-Shabab’s fighters.

The Somali government, which barely hangs on in the capital of Mogadishu and has lost much of the country’s central and southern regions to the rebels, acknowledges using children in its war and has not made removing them from the fight a top priority, the New York Times said in a report from Mogadishu Monday.

Tuesday’s Security Council debate came a month after the UN special representative for children and armed conflict for the first time issued a list of the “most persistent violators” of the international convention against the use of children in conflict. That list includes the Somali transitional government, pro-government and insurgent groups in Sudan, rebel groups in Colombia and the Philippines, both the government and rebel groups in Burma, and the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) with roots in Uganda.

In her comments, Ambassador Rice singled out cases of child soldiers in addition to Somalia – including the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. But she said the US especially “abhors” the LRA’s practice of “forced recruitment through abduction.”

The UN’s annual report does note some examples of progress. Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN special representative for children and armed conflict, said Burundi was delisted as a convention violator. Also last year, rebel groups in the Philippines, Nepal, and Sudan signed agreements to end their recruitment of child soldiers.


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