Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Al-Shabaab in recent weeks has kidnapped hundreds of children from
the militant-controlled town of El Bur in Galgadud, residents say,
expressing fear that the al-Qaeda-affiliated group is forcibly
recruiting them as child soldiers.
Since early May, more than 350 children under the age of 16 have been
taken from Qur'an schools or while playing in the streets of El Bur and
surrounding areas, said town elder Jama Hassan, 54.
"It is something that has terrified all of us," Hassan told Sabahi.
"If al-Shabaab has become weak it should not use children who do not
know how to use arms to shore up its strength."
Amid the wave of abductions, teachers and students have fled at least
18 Qur'an schools in the area due to al-Shabaab's reputation for
recruiting children, Hassan said, calling on the federal government to
"The government is responsible for the public and has to come up with
a plan to protect citizens who are suffering so they can have peace,"
Al-Shabaab is known for forcing children into its ranks of armed
fighters. In January 2012, the Somali Transitional Federal Government
and human rights groups reported that al-Shabaab was recruiting child
soldiers systematically and by force.
According to a May 15th report to the United Nations Security Council
from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, al-Shabaab perpetrated 1,789
cases of child recruitment in 2012, while the Somali National Army was
responsible for 179 similar cases.
In some cases, child soldiers escaped al-Shabaab to join Somali
government forces. The children were reportedly recruited from camps for
displaced people, schools and villages, and al-Shabaab coerced some
teachers to participate in enlisting students, according to the UN
A mother's nightmare:
El Bur resident Amina Yahye, 39, told Sabahi that al-Shabaab took her
14-year-old son, Hassan Ali, after he left his Qur'an school on May
11th and his whereabouts have since been unknown.
"I was desperately worried and was looking for my son for two days,
when I received a call from an al-Shabaab man who told me, 'Your son is
well and he is working for Islam. Whatever knowledge you wanted for him,
we will teach him, do not worry,'" she said.
The caller refused to let her speak to her
son, she said, adding that the man from al-Shabaab said Hassan was
receiving religious instruction on jihad and the hatred of infidels.
"When I cried to the man, he told me 'God willing, you will speak to
your son', and he hung up on me," she said. "The phone was turned off
when I called the number back. I still do not know where my son is and
would dearly love to speak to him even once so I can know for sure if he
Maryam Maow, 38, said she fled El Bur on June 1st and took her four
children with her to Dhusamareb out of fear that they might also be
"It is astonishing that al-Shabaab espouses Islamic principles, yet
they use innocent young children as wood to fuel their fire," she told
Al-Shabaab intimidates parents in El Bur if they refuse to allow
their children to join the militant group's ranks as fighters, Maow
"Some parents have prohibited their children from playing outside of
the house because al-Shabaab threatens to kill those who do not join
them," she said.
Parents holding their children's hands as they flee from al-Shabaab's
mandatory recruitment are a common sight now at bus stops in the El Bur
"We are seeing many women who are escaping with their children to
avoid al-Shabaab kidnappings," said Hafsa Rashid, an independent
journalist based in El Bur.
"Countless children have been kidnapped since May and no one spoke
against this heart-wrenching problem," she said, adding that if the
recruitment is not stopped those same children will return as al-Shabaab
fighters to destroy their own communities.