Somali children recruited for combat by Islamists: Amnesty

NAIROBI - Children in drought-struck Somalia are suffering from a range of war crimes including systematic recruitment by Islamist insurgents, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

The London-based rights group urged international action to protect the rights of children in war-torn Somalia, where tens of thousands are fleeing extreme drought.

Children are being "recruited as child soldiers, denied access to education and killed or injured in indiscriminate attacks," Amnesty said in a report.

Islamist extremists, including Shebab rebels who pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda last year, control swathes of southern Somalia and parts of its capital.

"As a child in Somalia, you risk death all the time," said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty's deputy director for Africa.

Children are punished by Shebab if they are caught listening to music or even for just wearing the "wrong clothes," Kagari added.

However, Amnesty also noted that Somalia's transitional government is on a UN "list of shame" for recruiting, using, killing and maiming children in armed conflict.

"It has committed to respect children's rights but has yet to adopt any concrete measures to end the use of children by forces fighting on its side," the report added.

While some children are lured to fight by the promise of money or mobile telephones, Shebab rebels are also using "increasingly threatening recruitment methods", including raiding schools and abduction.

Most children taken to fight appear to be aged between 12 and 18 years old, but refugees told Amnesty that children as young as eight have been recruited.

While boys are mainly recruited to fight, girls are taken to be cooks, cleaners or to carry weapons for the fighters, Amnesty added.

Some girls are forced into marriage with gunmen, the report added, which is based on testimonies from over 200 Somali refugees.

Many cited the recruitment of child soldiers as a reason for fleeing southern and central Somalia.

"This is a never-ending conflict, where children are experiencing unimaginable horrors on a daily basis," Kagari added.