Many countries across Africa found their newly gained independence not quite the freedom they expected, replacing colonial rule with often military rule. None more so than in Somalia where a military coup in 1969 installed Mohamed Siad Barre as president together with a harsh socialist regime that ruled the country until 1991 when clans from across Somalia brought it down and installed, well, chaos and civil war; a civil war that is still raging today turning Somalia into a pirate state outside the rule of law and one of the most dangerous places for children to grow up anywhere in the world with even aid agencies fearful of operating there.
The civil war has been raging in Somalia for twenty years and sees no sign of abating with al-Shabab embedding itself in central and southern Somalia and amassing fighters that the internationally recognised Transitional Government appears powerless to either stop or repel. Indeed there are reports of government troops defecting to al-Shabab and helping enforce strict Sharia law throughout held areas.
The streets of cities like Mogadishu are literally war zones where only the brave, or perhaps the foolhardy, dare to tread. This war was not of the making of Somalia children, however they have been most affected by it, seeing a third of a million of their countrymen dead, a near total collapse of education and healthcare systems and food scarcity. It is a generation forced to grow up knowing nothing but famine, war and conflict. The life expectancy of children in Somalia is just 48 years of age, and as such, 44% of the country's population are children under the age of fifteen. Of those over fourteen just 37.8% are literate and 71% of all children suffer from malnourishment.
Shockingly, an estimated 200,000 Somalia children are believed to have taken up arms as child soldiers during the conflict there. Although the situation is somewhat better outside the major conflict zone of Mogadishu, with the north of the country relatively safe, overall one in ten children dies before their first birthday with one in five dies before their fifth birthday. School enrolment for children in Somalia is just 23% with less that 30% having access to safe water.
Achieving humanitarian intervention in Somalia is set against a backdrop of danger to humanitarian aid workers with thirteen such workers killed since 2009 and many more injured and abducted. Nevertheless agencies such as UNICEF remain committed to the area and its children in an attempt to achieve positive outcomes, or at least mitigate against the worst effects, for the millions affected there.
It is known that some 200,000 children in Somalia have been directly involved in the fighting with many killed in recent years. “Putting children in the line of fire, killing and maiming them in the context of an armed conflict are among the most serious violations of international law which all parties to the conflict are expected to uphold. The use and recruitment of children under the age of 15 years is a war crime,” said Rozanne Chorlton, UNICEF's representative to Somalia.
As a result of this ongoing war, nearly 1.5 million Somalia children live their lives at risk of death, famine, malnutrition and abuse.
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