Experts warn of dire impact on Somali children amid conflict and environmental crises

Children who have been displaced inside Somalia stand outside in a temporary camp outside the capital city of Mogadishu on June 12, 2009. A photograph taken by REUTERS.

Within Somalia, experts estimate that around four million children have been impacted by the conflicts within the nation and its changing climate. This comes as Somali forces begin the delicate process of taking over security responsibilities from African Union peacekeepers after 17 years of safeguarding civilians and international organizations.

During a recent meeting, Isha Dyfan, an independent UN expert on human rights in Somalia, highlighted the slow progress in implementing the National Action Plan for children in the country. She emphasized the need for the government to focus on promoting and protecting the rights of women and children.

Ms. Dyfan pointed out that children make up a significant percentage of internally displaced persons in Somalia, falling victim to forced evictions and facing dangers like landmines and hazardous materials in areas that have been liberated.

Following years of isolation, Somalia has begun receiving support from the international community, including qualifying for debt relief under the HIPC initiative. Dyfan urged Somalia to invest debt forgiveness and other funds into areas like education and healthcare to create a healthier, more educated population.

The UN expert also supported the African Union’s proposal that a portion of Somalia’s new debt be allocated to education and healthcare. To address ongoing security challenges, the Somali government outlined its strategic priorities and roadmap for the security sector during a conference at the UN headquarters in New York in December 2023, highlighting the need for continued international assistance.

UN officials have described sexual and gender-based violence in Somalia as reaching epidemic levels, with reports of rape, gang rape, homicide, and a lack of accountability for perpetrators. Despite efforts to reform and protect children’s rights, security challenges persist, with civilians, particularly women and children, facing deadly attacks by groups like Al Shabaab.

The Federal Government of Somalia has initiated reforms to safeguard the rights of children affected by armed conflict, including preventing the recruitment of child soldiers and introducing age verification and biometric measures within the national armed forces to eradicate the use of underage soldiers.

During discussions with Somali officials, Ms. Dyfan emphasized the importance of strengthening capacity for investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of sexual violence to ensure survivors feel safe reporting crimes. Many rape victims fear reprisals and social stigma, lacking access to justice and effective remedies.

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