Somalia: Al-Shabaab Abducting Children From Central Somalia
26 June 2013
(Photo: Hassan Mahamud Ahmed/IRIN) Mogadishu
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 intervene.
"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," he said.
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 report.
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 is alive."
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 kidnapped.
"It is astonishing that al-Shabaab espouses Islamic principles, yet they use innocent young children as wood to fuel their fire," she told Sabahi.
Al-Shabaab intimidates parents in El Bur if they refuse to allow their children to join the militant group's ranks as fighters, Maow said.
"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 area.
"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.