Cali Xoosh Mohamed, a Koran teacher from the Sufi Ahlu Sunna faction, teaches his students while armed with an AK-47 assault rifle at a madrasa, or Koranic school, in Dhusamareeb, central Somalia, December 16, 2012. REUTERS/Feisal Omar
Somali boys sit with their legs chained at a religious school in Waxar Ade district, north of capital Mogadishu, July 19, 2012. The school was raided by African Union (AU) forces after they were misinformed that the school was operated by Al Shabaab militants as a recruitment centre, according to AU. The soldiers were told the boys` legs were chained as punishment for skipping school. Picture taken July 19, 2012. REUTERS/Feisal Omar
Growing Up in Country - How a Failed State Fails Its Children
by Simon Allison
February 23, 2012
Feb 23, 2012 (iMaverick/All Africa Global Media) -- It`s rare to get a glimpse of what life in Somalia is actually like, especially in those parts controlled by al-Shabaab. A new report by Human Rights Watch into the experiences of that troubled country`s children gives us some insight into what growing up there is really like. It`s not easy reading.
The London conference on Somalia kicks off on Thursday. I`ve been highly sceptical about how useful it`s going to be, and what the motivations behind it are, but the one thing it does do admirably is to reiterate - in case we`d forgotten - just how difficult it is to live, work and survive in Somalia. As if to illustrate this message, Human Rights Watch released a new report this week looking into what it`s like to be a child in Somalia at the moment. Their findings were a terrifying illustration of just how bad things are in some parts of the country; a disturbing insight into the daily lives of Somali society`s most vulnerable people.
The problems begin at school. Schools are in bad to terrible shape all over the country, with the possible exception of the autonomous region of Somaliland. But in areas controlled by al-Shabaab, the fundamentalist Islamist militant group that controls most of southern Somalia, bad education is the least of children`s problems. The report, entitled No Place for Children, explains that schools in these areas face the triple threat of teachers being intimidated into teaching al-Shabaab-approved subjects only, of boys being forced into fighting for al-Shabaab and girls into forced marriages, and of students being used as human shields to protect al-Shabaab fighters. The report was compiled from a number of interviews of refugees who managed to escape Somalia into Kenya, and it quotes liberally from these eyewitness accounts.
Here`s one from a child who managed to survive his human shield experience:
“Al-Shabaab came into the compound of the school and told us to stay in class. It was noon and they set up a Hobiye [a surface to air rocket launcher] and they started launching from inside the school compound.
They set it up in the “playing” area Some students tried to get out of the compound but they were turned back by al-Shabaab. We were trapped for two hours and they were firing in the direction of K-4 [territory held by the internationally recognised Transitional Federal Government and African Union troops]. There was incoming fire coming back at our direction. There were five rockets hitting around the school compound.
One landed as we were released and it killed eight students who were walking home. They came in a series of four rockets. The students killed were 17, 16, 18, and 19 years old.”
Some students are forcibly recruited into al-Shabaab from their schools, or even from their homes; abduction is perhaps a better term for it. One boy described how he`d been chosen to play in a special football match, along with a few of his friends. When they arrived at the field they instead found al-Shabaab militants waiting for them, and were transported to remote training camps. Sometimes, promises of money and mobile phones were used to lure youths to the camps, to the same end.
Once in the camps, the training begins. “In the morning they told us we were going for training,” said a 13-year old boy from Mogadishu quoted in the report. “They told us to jump in holes, climb over piles of trees. It was a hectic training and difficult for my age. At times they told us to crawl or roll on the ground or crawl between metal poles without touching them. It was difficult. We had to do push-ups, walk in a funny style. It was so difficult. After two weeks training, they gave us pistols and a card, made us mark it, put it at a distance, and told us to shoot that mark.” Children are whipped and cut if they don`t perform well enough, and are also given intensive religious training emphasising the importance of jihad.
To complete the transformation from child to child soldier, children are sent into towns controlled by al-Shabaab to enforce their draconian laws. They are given whips to punish businessmen who fail to close their shop during prayer time, women who aren`t dressed appropriately, and youths who listen to music on their mobiles phones. Said one 15-year old boy: “I was given two jobs, to whip women and to punish boys who had music on their mobile phones. I would make them swallow the memory card.
I made 20 youths swallow the cards and I must have whipped 50 women. I would go with older men backing me up. They were about 30 years old and there were five of them. They would stand with me and force me. I felt bad to whip someone my mother`s age. Other children were given similar jobs.”
Few escape from the camps - failed attempts are usually punished with a beheading, which the other children in the camp are forced to watch as a warning. Or else their families are targeted, as happened to this girl who ran away. It`s hard to comprehend the horror of her account.
“[Al-Shabaab] went to my house to my parents and said, “We want your child.” My parents refused. They killed my parents, my four brothers, and three of my four sisters. The girls were crying and then the other boys tried to defend my parents. Only my 10-year-old sister and I survived. I wasn`t there. I came and found my sister crying and the bodies only. My sister was crying and saying, `Go away. They will kill you and I can`t live alone if they kill you.` I just got my sister and fled We left the bodies and my sister and I ran away.”
The training is designed to prepare older boys (mid to late teens) for the frontline of al-Shabaab`s war with government and African Union soldiers, and to prepare girls and younger boys to take supplies to the frontlines and carry wounded militants back. Boys are often used to lead the charge for al-Shabaab. Abdikarim, age 15, was one of the few to make it back alive. “Then they took us to fight. It was between al-Shabaab and the TFG. The fighting started at about 5am. All the young children were taken to the first row of the fighting. I was there. We were defeated. Several of the young children there were killed, including several of my classmates. Out of all my classmates - about 100 boys - only two of us escaped, the rest were killed. Other children were also there on the front lines, about 300. The children were cleaned off. The children all died and the bigger soldiers ran away.”
For girls, the threats from al-Shabaab are different. They are unlikely to be sent to man the frontlines, although they certainly get close, but there is also a constant threat of forced marriage and sexual violence.
The HRW report indicates that there is a systematic campaign to force young girls into marrying al-Shabaab fighters, and that families are threatened if they refuse consent; there have been examples of parents being killed in retaliation, or brothers being forced into training camps. The process of identifying suitable child-brides often began in the school, making it even more dangerous for girls to attempt an education. One teacher described how it happened: “It was tea break, exactly at 10am. The girls and boys were separated [by al-Shabaab] at break and they were not allowed to play. They asked the girls to stand and paraded them. They looked and picked 15- and 16-year-old girls, one was 17 years old. They took 12 girls in total. They were told they should join. They said the girls were to become al-Shabaab wives. After this incident all the girls over age 15 ran away or dropped out of school. 150 girls dropped out of school.”
There is also widespread sexual violence practised against girls, both from combatants and civilians. Like in so many countries, there is heavy stigma attached to the victims of rape, so it often goes unreported. But evidence collected by Human Rights Watch suggests it is commonplace.
This is one illustrative story from a 17-year-old girl: “My younger sister and I were sent one night to go to the store to buy things. Then al-Shabaab appeared in front of us. There were very many. They caught us. They beat us but my sister managed to escape from them. They told me, `You will be taken to the station. Why are you walking around at this hour? We will arrest you.` But they didn`t take me to the station.
They raped me. I got pregnant and have this small baby. There were six but I went unconscious after two so I don`t know if all six raped me.
They used the butt of the gun to pierce my eye [indicating her left eye which was obviously damaged and which she said was blind]. Then they just left me.”
It is important to remember that while al-Shabaab is by far the worst perpetrator of violence against children, the Transitional Federal Government is by no means immune. While they don`t usually press-gang children into military service (although there have been some cases of this), there is very little screening of new recruits and many under-age soldiers are allowed to sign up. For some children, this might seem advantageous, as it provides a steady income and allows them to provide for their families; nonetheless, this is not a choice that any child should be allowed to make. The TFG are also accused of mistreating child soldiers that are captured from al-Shabaab, treating them just the same as adult prisoners.
The bottom line is that being a child in Somalia is horrendously difficult, especially for those living near one of the many conflict zones. The horrors described in the Human Rights Watch report - and there are many more than I`ve been able to include in this story - are exactly what the international community should be doing everything in its power to stop. Let`s hope that this is the motivation at the forefront of everyone`s thinking at Thursday`s London conference on Somalia.
© 2012 AllAfrica, All Rights Reserved
Al-Shabab said recruiting minors in central Somalia regions
BBC Monitoring Africa
June 07, 2012
The residents of Ceel Qohadle, Ceel-Lahelay and Ceel Garas, all in the Galguduud region [central Somalia] which is controlled by the Al-Shabab militia, have reported that Al-Shabab militants are forcibly recruiting their children to fight.
The people living in these areas are mostly middle-class people with every family keeping some animals as a source of income and wealth.
The recruitment of children under the age of 12 years by the Al-Shabab militia has been on the rise by the in Galguduud region. The militia, which is currently facing strong opposition in different places in Somalia, had fought with the Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama`a (ASWJ) forces and the Ethiopian forces backing them and have in recent months lost control of many towns in Galguduud region including key town of Ceel Buur.
Al-Shabab fighters in Galguduud region have started recruiting people into the militia by convincing them through all means and ways possible.
Abdifatah Kuus, a resident at Ceel Garas who fled the area and is currently in Ceel-Buur, talked to Somalia Report about the situation in the area.
Al-Shabab fighters started recruiting our children by force. Children are sent to learn in the Dugsi (Quran schools), they are instead taught about Jihad and nothing else. When the children come back to their homes, they are reciting jihad poems and are abusing the other groups who are fighting against the Al-Shabab, said Abdifatah.
Small children, who are not even allowed to do simple chores like collecting firewood, fetching water for the family or even herding the animals, are being induced by the easily available education at the dugsi and persuaded to take up guns heavier than they can handle and made to face well-trained armies.
We don`t even allow the children do any work for us because they are young, but now the Al-Shabab fighters are exploiting these children in the wrong way. They have changed the teachers at the dugsi and replaced with ones of their own, who only propagate their dogma and pass the fighting skills to the children. We tried to resist the change they made in the teachers, but we only have a say and nobody looked into our complaints, he added.
Due to the many fronts the Al-Shabab militia is facing at war and the scarcity of the soldiers may have led to the option of recruiting these children into the militia. The parents, on the other hand, are striving to save their children from being recruited for the Al-Shabab. Some parents have sent their children to the places controlled by the ASWJ and the Ethiopian forces, while other parents in the Galguduud region, especially the areas controlled by the Al-Shabab, have stopped sending their children to the Koranic schools.
I have sent my two boys, who are 16 years and 13 years of age, to Ceel-Bur to avoid being recruited into the militia. I don`t want them to start living a bad life, a life of a criminal, said Adawe, a father who remained at Ceel Qodahle which is under the control of the Al-Shabab militia.
The Al-Shabab militia have taken around 100 children, recruited from the dugsi schools, who are thought to be compelled to fight in the ongoing wars against the ASWJ and the Ethiopian forces who have seized much of Galguduud Region from the Al-Shabab militia.
These children are reported to be of the age 12 years and below. The parents of these children, who live under the Al-Shabab rule, have condemned the act of using children in the wars but still cannot complain due to fear of persecution. The children are taken from the Dugsi and after taking down their names, they are taken to Al-Shabab bases in the area for crash training. Many families have not seen their children for days only to be informed that their children are serving the Al-Shabab army and are `ready to defend the religion from the infidels and their allies who do not want the implementation of Shari`ah law in the land.`
It was early this week when the head of the Al-Shabab militia for Galguduud region, Shaykh Awale Muhammad Ali, had warned that the mujahidin will continue their wars against the enemies and will not allow the end of their rule in the area. However, people did not at the time expect to see increased recruitment of children into the Al-Shabab forces as part of efforts to continue with the battle against Ethiopian troops and ASWJ.
The head of security of Ceel Buur town of Galguduud region for the ASWJ, Abdi Hasan Muhammad confirmed the alarming recruitment of children into the Al-Shabab army.
We are aware of the recruitment of children in the Ceel-Qodahle and Ceel-Lahelay areas. They are forcing children to fight for them in the battle fields but soon the Galguduud region will be in our hands completely, Hasan said.
Source: SomaliaReport.com, in English 07 Jun 12
© 2012 The British Broadcasting Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
Somalia: Al-Shabab said arrest Koranic teachers over refusal to recruit students
BBC Monitoring Africa
February 29, 2012
Reliable sources and residents confirmed to Somalia Report that the Somali militant group of Al-Shabab has closed ten Koranic Schools on Saturday and arrested five teachers in Afgooye village in Lower Shabelle region [southern Somalia].
Al-Shabab closed the schools in the area and our children now stay at home,” said Mohamed Ga`al, a parent in Afgooye. According to residents the cause of the schools closure is due to teachers` refusal to enlist their students for military training in the face of Al-Shabab`s loss of strategic towns and positions to allied forces.
They want to recruit children since they have lost many strategic places and the teachers refused to follow the orders, one of the Koranic School teachers said to Somalia Report on condition of anonymity.
Five of my colleagues are in jail and I am in hiding, said another teacher who escaped arrest by militants after they surrounded the school where he teaches.
According to the teachers more than 1,500 children will be out of school.
Al-Shabab wants to put the school children through a mandatory 20 days military training and then redeploy them to the front lines as fighters and martyrs, a witness confirmed to Somalia Report.
We value our Koranic schools and are unhappy about the arrest of our respected teachers. We urge Al-Shabab to release the teachers and reopen the schools, said Amina Ma`alin one of the mothers.
Forcing the children to fight at the front lines is what the Al-Shabab is known for. We are very sorry to hear that they are trying to recruit our children. This is an unfortunate matter because they are in their final days and lack power. They have lost a lot of ground in the war, added Ismahan Ali, another parent in Afgooye.
Al-Shabab had previously met with school teachers and discussed issues related to child soldering. Some of the teachers refused to follow the demands of Al-Shabab while others accepted.
Teachers report that Sheikh Bashir, the District Commissioner of Afgooye expressed these demands in the meeting.
I want a list of student`s names and age from every teacher. Those who are above 15 years must be enlisted and should take part in the Jihad. Anyone who refuses to perform this duty will meet due punishment, he decreed.
Somalia Report has learned that Ali Jibriil, Mohamed Sheikh and Osman Hilowle are among the five arrested teachers.
Source: SomaliaReport.com, in English 28 Feb 12
© 2012 The British Broadcasting Corporation. All Rights Reserved.