By Katarzyna Rybarczyk
Somalia has been in a constant state of war for the last 30 years. In addition to the ongoing armed conflict, in recent months Somalia has been fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and has been struggling with devastating impacts of climate change. All that has been negatively affecting the health and safety of the population of Somalia. The humanitarian crisis in the state is now more severe than ever, and out of 5.9 million people in need, 3.9 million are kids. Children are now particularly at risk of displacement, recruitment as child soldiers, forced labor, and sexual exploitation.
How displacement affects child mortality
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The pandemic has forced thousands of Somalis to move to camps for Internally Displaced People (IDP). As a result of overcrowding, their living conditions are extremely poor. People have very limited access to potable water and sanitation, and diseases, including COVID-19, spread quickly. As healthcare services do not function properly, on a daily basis, the most vulnerable individuals die of conditions that could have been treated. That mainly concerns pregnant women and kids that make up the majority of those living in camps.
UNICEF reports that, in Somalia, ‘four in 100 children die during the first month of life, eight in 100 before their first birthday, and 1 in 8 before they turn five’. More than 80 per cent of neonatal deaths could be prevented if women were giving birth in hospital facilities rather than in tents in informal settlements.
Once families have been displaced, the likelihood of them returning to their homes is very low. Most of them have already lost all their belongings, and the villages that they came from got destroyed by bombings, extreme drought and floods, or are controlled by terrorist organizations. That makes a big part of the population of Somalia completely reliant on humanitarian aid.
How many Somali kids become child soldiers
Al-Shabab is an Islamist militant group that has control over vast territories of Somalia. Al-Shabab means ‘the Youth’, and the organization is notorious for recruiting children. The group has forced hundreds of kids from rural areas to join its ranks. Some of them are younger than 8 years old. The only way for them to avoid conscription is to flee their homes and schools. Nevertheless, if they do that, they are at an even higher risk of kidnappings and trafficking.
Al-Shabab intentionally targets kids because, if indoctrinated from a young age, they are likely to stay committed to the group’s cause in the future. Children are easy to manipulate and, by spreading fear, the organization can make them follow its orders. Boys are usually sent to the front lines and coerced into carrying out suicide terrorism attacks or serving as human shields. Girls, on the other hand, hold support roles and are frequently raped and forced into becoming child brides.
Children are easy targets in the eyes of terrorist groups like Al-Shabab, and, in a state where the government has collapsed, there is no one to protect them. Parents, teachers, or humanitarian workers who try to prevent children from being abducted put their own lives at risk.
How the problem of modern slavery concerns children in Somalia
Modern slavery is a term that refers to humans being trafficked for a number of reasons. The most common purposes of trafficking include forced labour and sexual exploitation. The UN aims to end modern slavery by 2030, but in countries like Somalia, the situation has been getting worse instead of getting better. Child sex trafficking and child labour are two problems that have been aggravated in recent months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many children often forced to work to help their parents who suddenly lost their jobs. It is estimated that half of the kids between 5 and 14 years old are employed. Moreover, more and more families give away their children knowing they will be exploited but do it because they are offered payment in exchange. Children are often trafficked and taken to other African states where they are used for labour. In addition to that, young girls are particularly at risk of being trafficked and sexually abused. If they are kidnapped, they are usually told that they can only get food in exchange for sexual favours. Parents marry their daughters off to whoever offers them money for their hands. Consequently, girls can easily become sex slaves.
How the international community is failing to protect the children of Somalia
It has been 30 years since Somalia was declared a failed state. The UN initiated two humanitarian and peacekeeping missions designed to help the people affected by the conflict. Nevertheless, as there is no functioning government in Somalia, the UN has been struggling with getting consent for its operations. Moreover, local warlords and terrorist groups refuse to allow humanitarian workers to operate in the country. Both of the UN missions failed and any intervention attempts in recent years have been unsuccessful in helping the state and its people.
It is important that the international community does not forget about Somalia. It needs to try to come up with ways to provide the most vulnerable with protection and let the children know that there is hope for them having a better life in the future.
Katarzyna Rybarczyk is a Political Correspondent for immigrationnews.co.uk. This is a media platform that helps to raise awareness about migrant injustices and news around the world and helps people get immigration advice.