Somali Islamic Militias Recruiting Child Soldiers, Amnesty Says

The Islamic militias that control most of southern and central Somalia are stepping up their recruitment of child soldiers in the famine-ravaged country, Amnesty International said yesterday.

The “systematic recruitment of children,” many of them under 15 years old, is escalating, the London-based human rights organization said in an e-mailed report today.

At the same time, civilian casualties have mounted this year as fighting intensifies in the capital, Mogadishu, Amnesty said in a separate report. At two hospitals run by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the number of war-wounded “rose sharply” this year, with 933 patients treated between May 1 and May 15, 398 of them children under the age of five, Amnesty said, citing the Red Cross.

“It is shocking that the international community has not put into place a mechanism to systematically investigate war crimes and other serious abuses in Somalia,” Amnesty said.

Somalia has been mired in a civil war for two decades and hasn’t had a functioning central government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. People under 20 years old in Somalia have never experienced peace or the rule of law, while about 32 percent of all Somalis, or 2.4 million people, face a food crisis this month, up from 2 million at the beginning of the year, Amnesty said.

A drought in the Horn of Africa may affect as many as 10 million people this year, according to the United Nations World Food Programme. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said July 8 that the infant fatality rate in some refugee camps for Somalis is three times the normal for emergency situations.