The African Union Mission in Somalia and the Federal Government of Somalia have resolved to work together to tackle the use of child soldiers in the country.
The Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (SRCC) for Somalia, Ambassador Francisco Madeira, said armed groups in Somalia had many child soldiers within their ranks, hence the need for a collective approach to security to enhance the war against the vice.
“The continued recruitment and use of child soldiers by certain elements is a contributing factor to the protracted nature of the conflict in Somalia. Children are fighting wars created by adults”, said Ambassador Madeira.
Madeira spoke in Nairobi, Wednesday, when he presided over the opening ceremony of a three-day workshop on the prevention of recruitment of child soldiers.
Among the participants were officials from African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), Somali National Army (SNA) and the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS).
The SRCC said key in the campaign would be to counter radicalization and extremist ideology used by militants to influence young people into joining armed groups.
“If we manage to make the extremist ideology unattractive, and if we manage to tackle the problem of child soldiers, Al-Shabaab will be wiped out because they will have nowhere to recruit soldiers. The guns will then go silent,” he added.
Militant groups such as Al-Shabaab have for long exploited the high poverty rates in Somalia to recruit vulnerable children by hoodwinking them with false promises of a better life.
He said that the African Union was committed to working with the Federal Government of Somalia in achieving peace through various initiatives such as capacity building for officials.
Mr. Adebayo Kareem, the AMISOM Acting Chief of Staff, said the workshop was a sign of AMISOM’s commitment in combating the problem of child soldiers in Somalia.
“The diversity of the people at high level in this meeting was deliberate so that they can go back and educate the others,” added Mr. Kareem.
AMISOM’s Child Protection Advisor, Musa Gbow, called for a multi-approach involving various players to effectively tackle the problem. Mr. Gbow noted that AMISOM forces would not work with any group that uses children as soldiers, adding that exploitation of minors is a violation of human rights.
He cited Somalia’s vast and rugged terrain as one of the challenges AMISOM had encountered in trying to liberate children in armed groups.
The African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child prohibits the recruitment of children as soldiers. In addition, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), there could be as high as 5,000 child soldiers in Somalia as Al-Shabaab continues its recruiting campaigns.