So­ma­lia’s chil­dren schooled in guns

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY TOM ODULA

DHOB­LEY, SO­MA­LIA | Adan Abdi wor­ries that the stu­dents in his class show too lit­tle in­ter­est in ed­u­ca­tion.

That might be a com­mon com­plaint among teach­ers, but Mr. Abdi’s con­cerns go fur­ther: His stu­dents are in­ter­ested in play­ing war.

Mr. Abdi is a teacher in south­ern So­ma­lia, a re­gion that has been dom­i­nated by mili­tia vi­o­lence for years.

“Stu­dents here are not so much in­ter­ested in learn­ing, be­cause they can see a lot of peo­ple car­ry­ing guns,” said the 22-year-old English teacher.

“Small guys like them are car­ry­ing guns, when they go from [school] to their houses . . . they pre­tend to be fight­ing us­ing sticks like guns.

“That’s what they have in their hearts. Their in­ten­tion: That they will fight when they grow older,” Mr. Abdi said.

UNICEF says an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren has grown up know­ing only con­flict and fight­ing in many parts of So­ma­lia, and pos­si­bly thou­sands of chil­dren have been trained in combat.

Sikan­der Khan, the top of­fi­cial for the U.N. chil­dren’s agency in So­ma­lia, said there is an in­creased need to in­vest more in So­ma­lia’s youth and chil­dren in or­der to give long-term peace a chance to pre­vail.

“We need to make sure that this gen­er­a­tion re­ceives qual­ity ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion, ac­cess to so­cial ser­vices and pro­tec­tion from vi­o­lence and abuse,” he said. “This will stop them be­ing sucked into the con­tin­u­ing vi­o­lence and they will then be able to make a pos­i­tive and last­ing con­tri­bu­tion to the fu­ture of So­ma­lia.”

Many chil­dren in So­ma­lia have lit­tle or no ed­u­ca­tion. Only about a third of chil­dren of pri­mary-school age are en­rolled in school, ac­cord­ing to UNICEF.

Chil­dren in So­ma­lia fre­quently are forced to join armed groups such as the al Qaeda-linked alShabab. Schools also have come un­der at­tack.

“It is es­ti­mated that thou­sands of chil­dren have been trained in the use of arms and other skills re­lated to combat. Re­ports from our part­ners in­di­cate that in re­cent months there has been an in­crease in the re­cruit­ment and use of chil­dren in armed con­flict by war­ring part­ners,” Mr. Khan said.

Mo­hamed Deq Nur, a 14-year-old stu­dent in Mo­gadishu, So­ma­lia’s cap­i­tal, said he re­mem­bers 2006 be­cause he went a month with­out hear­ing a gun­shot.

That year a group called the Is­lamic Courts Union brought some sem­blance of or­der when they took con­trol of So­ma­lia and tried to en­force their strict in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lamic law.

Mo­hamed said he has seen dead bod­ies on the street — most re­cently, when a man was shot be­cause he re­fused to give a thief his watch.

Mo­hamed said he doesn’t know how to use a gun but thinks it would be good to learn for self-pro­tec­tion.

So­ma­lia has been in con­flict since 1991, when long-term dic­ta­tor Siad Barre was over­thrown by war­lords who then turned on each other.

Al-shabab has had a grip on much of south-cen­tral So­ma­lia for the past sev­eral years, but now faces hos­tile mil­i­taries on three sides. AlShabab was pushed out of the cap­i­tal last year.

Mr. Khan said the vi­o­lence has de­prived chil­dren of their child­hood. Be­cause of the con­flict, many are also at risk of dis­ease and mal­nu­tri­tion, among other safety risks, be­cause of the lack of an ef­fec­tive cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

So­ma­lia has one of the worst child mor­tal­ity rates in the world. One out of ev­ery six chil­dren die be­fore their fifth birth­day, he said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

So­mali schoolboys take a break from class in Dhob­ley, a town un­der the con­trol of Kenyan mil­i­tary and So­mali gov­ern­ment forces. Many chil­dren in So­ma­lia are un­e­d­u­cated and are forced to join armed groups such as al-shabab.

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