LONDON (AlertNet) - Children in Somalia are being systematically recruited to fight on frontlines, killed in indiscriminate attacks and denied an education, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.
Other abuses include being flogged, and being forced to attend public stonings and amputations by Islamist groups, including al Qaeda-affiliated al Shabaab, the rights watchdog said in a report.
"As a child in Somalia, you risk death all the time: you can be killed, recruited and sent to the frontline, punished by al Shabaab because you are caught listening to music or 'wearing the wrong clothes', be forced to fend for yourself because you have lost your parents or even die because you don't have access to adequate medical care," Michelle Kagari, Amnesty's deputy director for Africa, said in a statement.
"This is a never-ending conflict where children are experiencing unimaginable horrors on a daily basis," she added. "They risk becoming a lost generation if the world continues to ignore the war crimes affecting so many of them."
Amnesty blamed both government forces and Islamist groups for recruiting child soldiers, a practice that has increased since fighting escalated in 2006.
Fear of recruitment was increasingly being cited by Somali refugees as a reason for fleeing the country, according to the report which is based on interviews with refugees in Kenya and Djibouti in 2009 and in Kenya in 2010 – before drought in Somalia reached emergency levels.
It said al Shabaab were sending children to recruit other children to its ranks, as well as luring them with promises of phones and money. The group were also using threats, raids on schools and abductions to bolster their numbers.
Children were also being trained to handle firearms, grenades and improvised explosive devices, Amnesty said.
In addition to being targeted for recruitment as fighters, many Somali children have seen parents and friends deliberately killed or tortured.
They have also been flogged by al Shabaab for not praying on time or, in the case of some girls, for not wearing the hijab headscarf or the abaya gown.
Somalia is one of the world’s toughest places to be a child. The mortality rate for children under five was estimated at 200 per 1,000 children in 2011, Amnesty said. Only 23 percent of children of primary school age attend primary school. And 98 percent of girls, primarily between the ages of four and 11, are thought to undergo female genital mutilation.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)