Seafarers are not the only victims of Somali piracy, so are the country’s children, now being recruited by warlords to man their skiffs. It comes as no surprise in country where militia backing the west-supported Transitional Federal Government, TFG, as well as the radical Islamist movements such as Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, actively recruit children.
“Some parties are using the radio, schools and putting pressure on parents” to recruit children, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, told reporters in New York after her visits to Kenya and Somalia last week. Ms. Coomaraswamy said that killing and maiming of children was widespread in Somalia, adding that she had met some children with bullets still lodged in their bodies after being shot during clashes. Schools were often attacked as rival groups sought to impose their own curricula, she said.On maritime piracy, which is rampant off the coast of Somalia, Ms. Coomaraswamy says that a jailed pirate in Puntland had told her that former pirates who had become wealthy increasingly relied on child recruits to seize ships for ransom.
Many of the people in charge of piracy operations are not out on the seas themselves, but on shore in their homes in Somalia or Kenya. The people they actually send out to “do the dangerous stuff are young children and youth, between the ages of 15, 16 and 17,” says Coomaraswamy.
She believes that if an international criminal tribunal is convened to deal with the perpetrators of acts of piracy, no child should be tried in the same court as adults. Instead, child pirates should be rehabilitated and integrated back into their communities.
The exploitation and abuse of children to become pirates to abuse and exploit seafarers is, perhaps, an inevitable outcome of that sad madness that is Somalia. The only forces proven capable of reducing piracy are the radical Islamists whose victory in the current civil war is, at least politically, unacceptable. Corruption among Western-backed politicians receiving part of the ransom payments is difficult to deny.
What is needed is out-of-the box thinking and action.