Terror group al-Shabaab has escalated its campaign to forcibly recruit children and the elderly in recent months ostensibly to replenish its members’ dwindling numbers. Ismael, an 11 old pupil disappeared on his way home from school in the town of Baidoa in southern Somalia two years ago. He would be 13 years old today.
“I still feel the pain as a parent. I can’t believe that I will never see him again,” said Mohamud, 45, a father of five who now lives in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. “He was the hope of this family and we loved him. We miss him so much.” Mohamud says he knows that al-Shabab militants kidnapped Ismael with three other students from Baidoa primary school. The murderous terror group regularly enters villages and demands that families give up their children. If parents resist, the militants often capture the children and force them to join their ranks.
“We suspect that they were kidnapped by al-Shabab soldiers because they have been ordering us to hand over our children as young as 7 years to help them fight,” he said. Al-Shabab has conscripted children throughout its decade-long insurgency in Somalia, but it escalated its campaign of forcibly recruiting child soldiers in mid-2017, according to relatives.
In January, Somali soldiers conducted a raid on an al-Shabab camp in the Middle Shabelle region in southern Somalia and freed at least 37 child soldiers. After the raid, Somali former Information Minister Abdirahman Omar Osman told journalists that al-Shabab’s reliance on child soldiers proved Somali troops and their allies were making headway against the group. Al-Shabab targets anyone who deviates from its extremist interpretation of Islam. The group victimizes those who will not join in the small villages it still controls.