Human Rights Watch Multimedia Release  

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE
Not For Publication Until:
00:01 in London, Tuesday, February 21, 2012
00:01 GMT, February 21, 2012

SOMALIA: Warring Parties Put Children at Grave Risk

Al-Shabaab Rebels Impose Forced Marriages, use Students as 'Human Shields'

(London, February 21, 2012) – Somalia’s warring parties have all failed to protect Somali children from the fighting or serving in their forces, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Islamist insurgent group al-Shabaab has increasingly targeted children for recruitment, forced marriage, and rape, and attacked teachers and schools, Human Rights Watch said.

“For children in Somalia, nowhere is safe,” said Zama Coursen-Neff, deputy children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Al-Shabaab rebels have abducted children from their homes and schools to fight, for rape, and for forced marriage.”

The 104-page report, “No Place for Children: Child Recruitment, Forced Marriage, and Attacks on Schools in Somalia,” details unlawful recruitment and other laws-of-war violations against children by all parties to the conflict in Somalia since 2010. The report is based on over 164 interviews with Somali children, including 21 who had escaped from al-Shabaab forces, as well as parents and teachers who had fled to Kenya.

Human Rights Watch called on all parties to the conflict, involving Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and African Union forces (AMISOM) against al-Shabaab, to release any child soldiers in their ranks, protect children formerly associated with fighting forces, and protect schools, teachers, and students from attack.

Since Somalia’s conflict intensified in 2010 and 2011, al-Shabaab has increasingly forced children, some as young as 10, to join its dwindling ranks. After several weeks of harsh training, al-Shabaab’s child recruits are then sent to the front lines, where some serve as “cannon fodder” to protect adult fighters, Human Rights Watch found. Others have been coerced into becoming suicide bombers. A 15-year-old boy told Human Rights Watch that in 2010, “Out of all my classmates – about 100 boys – only two of us escaped, the rest were killed. The children were cleaned off. The children all died and the bigger soldiers ran away.”

Al-Shabaab has also abducted girls for domestic and front-line service, as well as to be wives to al-Shabaab fighters. Families who try to prevent their children’s recruitment or abduction by al-Shabaab, or children who attempt to escape, face severe consequences and even death.

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