Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 9.5 million (5.2 million under 18)
Government armed forces: Transitional National Government (TNG) of Somalia: no data; Somaliland Republic: estimated total 12,9001 ; Regional State of Puntland: estimated total 19,0002
Compulsory recruitment age: information not available
Voluntary recruitment age: information not available
Voting age: 16 years in Somaliland3 ; information not available for Somalia
Optional Protocol: not applicable
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): none specifically relevant to child soldiers

There was widespread use of children as soldiers by all parties involved in continuing armed conflict. Some 200,000 children were estimated to have carried a gun or been involved with militias over a 14-year period.


Without a central government since 1991, Somalia continued to suffer from inter-clan conflict, particularly in southern areas. A Transitional National Government (TNG) was established in 2000 and nominally recognized internationally until its mandate expired in August 2003. It controlled only a section of the capital, Mogadishu. It agreed a ceasefire with some faction leaders in October 2002 and a Transitional Charter in 2003 that set out the procedures for future elections for an interim parliament. Conflictive peace talks, begun in 2002, continued in 2004. An African Union military contingent was to monitor the ceasefire.4

The self-proclaimed Regional State of Puntland controlled the northeast. In the northwest, the Somaliland Republic, under a locally recognized government, held multi-party presidential elections in April 2003. It boycotted the peace talks. The two administrations continued to contest the regions of Sool and Sanaag, and Puntland accused neighbouring Djibouti of arming the Somaliland Republic.5


Recruitment legislation and practice

Three different legal systems coexist throughout Somalia: customary law (xeer soomaali), Islamic law (Shari'a) and codified law. Interpretations of the different legal texts were used interchangeably, often in contradiction with each other and with international child rights standards.6

In the TNG-controlled area, the constitution specifies no minimum age for the recruitment of soldiers. In 2003 the TNG was identified by the UN as a party to armed conflict recruiting or using children.7

The Somaliland Republic constitution contains no minimum age of recruitment into the armed forces. There were no reports of under-18s in its forces and the authorities generally accepted that recruits should not be under 20 years old, but an inadequate system of birth registration made it difficult to establish the age of recruits.8

The UN Independent Expert on Somalia reported in 2002 that in the Regional State of Puntland, despite assurances that child soldiers were not recruited, children under 16 were members of the Daraawishta, a paramilitary police force.9

Armed political groups

All parties to the conflict continued to recruit children into their ranks.10 In addition to the TNG, faction and clan-based armed militias allegedly using children as soldiers included the Juba Valley Alliance, the Somalia Reconciliation and Restoration Council, Somalia Reconciliation and Restoration Council – Mogadishu, and the Rahanwein Resistance Army.11

In 2002 the UN Independent Expert on Somalia noted large numbers of child soldiers with factional militias in Mogadishu and Baidoa, and reported that "often young boys carrying weapons [were] riding with larger groups of armed men on anti-aircraft or similar vehicles".12 The Independent Expert estimated that over 200,000, or five per cent, of Somali children had carried a gun or been involved in militia activities at some point in their lives.13 Boys as young as 14 or 15 allegedly participated in militia attacks, and many youths were members of marauding gangs known as moryaan (maggots).14

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR)

The Rule of Law and Protection Working Group of the Somalia Aid Coordination Body (SACB) coordinated international support for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of clan and faction-based militia. UNESCO helped demobilize and provided vocational training for 450 militia members between the ages of 15 and 35 in Mogadishu throughout 2002.15

A pilot demobilization and reintegration program for 118 former combatants, girls and boys, was undertaken in 2001 and 2002 by UNICEF and the Elman Peace Centre, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that has offered vocational training to former militia members since 1992. A second phase continued in 2004 with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for 420 more child soldiers, 20 per cent of them girls, in Mogadishu, Merca and Kismayo.16

Other developments

The TNG signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on 9 May 2002. While not internationally recognized and thus unable to formally sign or ratify a UN treaty, the Somaliland Republic endorsed the CRC in November 2001, but took no legal or administrative measures to incorporate its provisions, including its definition of a child, into domestic law.17

At the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children in 2002, the Permanent Representative of Somalia to the UN, representing the TNG, expressed his country's intention to sign the Optional Protocols to the CRC in due course. He added: "In light of our commitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the two optional protocols, as well as to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, my government will ... mobilize human and financial resources from private and international sources in order to provide ... [for] recuperation, rehabilitation, and counselling of child combatants."18

* see glossary for information about internet sources

1 IISS, The Military Balance 2001-2002, Oxford University Press, 2001.

2 Institute for Security Studies, Somalia: Security Information,

3 Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR), Very much a Somaliland-run election, CIIR Election Observers Report, March 2004.

4 Amnesty International (AI), 2004 UN Commission on Human Rights: Mission: to promote and protect human rights, 1 January 2004, http://web.

5 Communication from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 22 January 2004.

6 Save the Children UK, Children's rights situation analysis in Somaliland, July 2003.

7 Report of the UN Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, 10 November 2003, UN Doc A/58/546-S/2003/1053, Annex 1,

8 UNICEF Somalia, "From perception to reality: A study on child protection in Somalia", The child rights situation analysis in Somaliland: A benchmark to measure progress, 2003.

9 Report on advisory services and technical cooperation in the field of human rights, 31 December 2002, UN Doc. E/CN.4/2003/115,

10 Report of the UN Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, op. cit.

11 Report of the UN Secretary-General on the situation in Somalia, UN Doc. S/2003/636, 10 June 2003,

12 Report of the UN Independent Expert on Somalia, UN Doc. EC/CN.4/2002/119, 14 January 2002,

13 Report of the UN Independent Expert on Somalia, UN Doc. E/CN.4/2004/103, 30 November 2003, drawing on UNICEF Somalia, "From perception to reality: A study on child protection in Somalia", op. cit.

14 US Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2002, March 2003,

15 Report of the UN Secretary-General on the situation in Somalia, UN Doc. S/2002/709, 27 June 2002.

16 UNICEF, Rehabilitation and reintegration of former child soldiers in Somalia, Funding proposal, November 2002.

17 Save the Children UK, op. cit.

18 Statement before the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children, 10 May 2002, www.


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