Relief SCENE:Children
UNICEF Calls for Protection of Somali Children
The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) on Thursday called for the protection of a number of children captured as prisoners of war following a recent battle at Beled Hawo, a strategic border town where forces allied to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) fought against militant Islamist group al-Shabaab.

In a media release, the agency indicated that children were involved in the recent fighting in which a number of young fighters were reportedly killed in separate battles near Beled Hawo, Gedo region, and Dhusamareb and Ceel Buur of Galgadud region.

“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 UNICEF Representative to Somalia, Ms. Rozanne Chorlton.

According to the UN agency, the TFG reportedly captured a number of young children during the fierce battles in parts of Gedo region. Currently an unidentified number of children captured as prisoners of war are held at an undisclosed location in the periphery of Beled Hawo, but attempts to determine their status have been unsuccessful.

“An impartial humanitarian body should be granted unrestricted access to these children, wherever they are held. The international community must make the necessary resources available to address the needs of these children as a matter of urgency,” said Ms. Chorlton.

UNICEF described the crisis in Somalia as a "children's crisis" and called on all parties involved in the Somali conflict to protect the rights of children in accordance with international humanitarian law, human rights law and with special consideration for their status as children.

Somalia’s fragile western-backed government was last year accused of recruiting children as combatants to take part in military operations against al-Shabaab.