The United Nations has accused both Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG), and the insurgents fighting it, of committing grave human rights violations against children in the country.
In a report to the UN Security Council on 11 June, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: "The level of grave violations against children in Somalia has been increasing over the past year, particularly with regard to the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict; the killing, maiming and rape of children; and the denial of humanitarian access to children."
"The widespread use of children in almost all fighting forces in the country was noted, particularly in Mogadishu," Ban reported, adding that the recruitment of child soldiers was also increasing, although exact numbers could not be verified.
Ban called on the transitional government and opposition groups to renounce the recruitment and use of children in their armed forces, and urged such forces in Somalia "to make all efforts to minimise civilian casualties during fighting".
Ahmed Dini of Peaceline, a Somali civil society group that monitors the situation of children in the country, told IRIN that if one looks at the displaced camps where tens of thousands are sheltering, or in hospitals, the "vast majority are children".
Dini said: "Unfortunately in all aspects of the Somali tragedy children are more often than not most affected and least able to cope."
Christian Balslev-Olesen, the Representative of Unicef, said that, "Just outside Mogadishu there are hundreds of thousands of children displaced, many of whom are not accessing education."
Since serious fighting began in early 2007, at least one million Somalis have fled their homes, while an estimated 6,500 civilians have been killed.
Some 2.6 million Somalis need assistance and this figure is expected to reach 3.5 million by the end of the year if the humanitarian situation does not improve, according to the UN.
Ban's account noted that the number of cases of rape and other sexual assaults against children reported to UN and partner monitoring organizations rose from 115 in 2007 to 128 this year..
|Unfortunately in all aspects of the Somali tragedy children are more often than not most affected and least able to cope|
However, these numbers are not reflective of the actual numbers of cases.
"The vast majority of cases of sexual violence in Somalia are not reported," said Balslev-Olesen.
Dini said many children under the age of 16 were being recruited by all sides in violation of international law.
"There are no exact figures, but there are probably several thousand children in all the armed groups," added Dini.
Ban called for investigations into all incidents of grave child rights violations and urged the TFG to end the detention of children and to control the proliferation of small arms.
Moreover, Ban urged the Ethiopian forces to "refrain from indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian objects, including but not limited to schools and hospitals," and called on the Ethiopian authorities to investigate allegations of grave violations against children by their forces.
[Full report at: www.un.org]
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions