YOUTH AND WOMEN
Youth in Somalia and South Sudan continue to be directly affected by violence associated with civil war. At young age, they have lost family members and been forced to flee for safety after witnessing their homes looted and destroyed.
In the absence of the institutional structures that provided basic social services to the community and/or uphold the rights of the youth, and children are deprived of the protection of the state and left particularly vulnerable to abuse. The youth who suffer the most are those associated with armed forces and conflicts.
Throughout the two-decade of war, warring parties in Somalia have increasingly continued to recruit youth and children, seeing them as expendable and easy to influence. Recruited between the ages of 9 and 24 years of age, they are forced to fight in the front line of battle often under the influence of drugs. They are subjected to constant threats of death or punishment if they fail or refuse to carry out orders. Child soldiers are used to carry heavy equipment, spy, lay traps, act as messengers or lookouts and carry out acts of targeted and planned assassinations, often including suicide missions. The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers in 2010 estimated that since 1991, over 300,000 children in Somalia have carried arms or been recruited in the countries militia.
On the other hand, the girl child soldier is additionally subjected to sexual exploitation, with many being raped and used as sexual slaves or forced into early marriages and pregnancies to other military officers and commanders. By this, they are exposed to a myriad of health complications and forced to take on huge responsibilities in the event that they become young parents. Their communities when attempting to reintegrate into society then stigmatize them.
The major factor forcing youth to take up arms is poverty. Many children in the region are denied the opportunity to go to school – it is estimated that only 16.9% of Somali children are enrolled in schools (20.8percent for boys and 12.7percent for girls). Having no positive alternative to sustain their livelihood, they are compelled to take up arms, believing the armed forces to be their best option for protection and ultimate survival in the presence of the constant violence that has destroyed the fabric of their communities. Whereas some are forcefully recruited into the armed forces by radical militia groups or driven to violence as a means of securing protection and sustenance, many are coerced into combat by their own parents
SFH recognises, to date there are not enough initiatives currently being carried out to provide protection and social services to the growing number of children engaging in combat, or at risk of being recruited.
For this reason, SFH launch several efforts to engage ex-Children Associated with the Armed Forces and children and adolescents at risk and provide with alternative opportunities that promote their positive development and successful reintegration into society. SFH has been actively involved in youth and child rescue operations for the past 7 years. We have played key roles in rehabilitating young militias and providing them with education and employment opportunities.
In 2010-2011, SFH successfully implemented a Demobilization, Disarmamentand re-integration Program (DDR), where over 900 young militias were engaged and influenced to abandon all forms of combat and were thereafter integrated into active society. SFH provided daily food rations and basic health and hygiene services to these youth for a period of 4 month and finally re-integrated into the community.
SFH’s youth program is born out of the realization that the youth are agents of change whose futures are at stake. Somalia lacks the necessary institutional structures that provide opportunities for education and employment, making it difficult to instill the essential values and mechanisms in the youth that promote positive human growth and development. 75% of the current Somali youths are grow up having had little or no interaction with formal institutions, with many having no living memory of a functioning state. Youths from rural areas are now finding their way into the city and are either enlisting in the army, being recruited by radical Islamist groups, risking illegal Tahrib (dangerous migration) or engaging in destructive behavior such as looting, rape, kidnapping, murder, the destruction of public infrastructure.
One of SFH’s principal focus is to provide specialized alternative programs such as vocational trainings for the youth, and has been putting into practice other programs geared towards empowering young people. We have provided training to the youth on life skills throughout Somalia. We have also carried out a demilitarization program that saw hundreds of youths give up arms to engage in other income generating activities.
Being a witness to the extreme challenges youth and women, and in line with the preamble to UN Resolution 1325 on Women’s Peace and Security which reaffirms ‘the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflict and in peace-building’,the situation in Somalia demonstrates the need to enhance human rights conditions in the country and involve youth and women in the constitution-making process, particularly women and the youth, in an effort to promote gender equity, democracy and increase women’s participation in all levels and sectors of their society.
Women and the youth have been systematically excluded from participating in and contributing to finding a lasting solution to the conflict in Somalia. Through extensive and progressive actions developed by SFHwe seeks to support women and youth by providing them with the opportunity to take an active role in the reconciliation processes, promotion of human rights, gender equity, conflict resolution and good governance. In the absence of these opportunities, the youth, for example, including children are easily conscripted into the militia and used to commit acts of targeted and planned assassinations. Alternatively, many more are forced to seek refuge across borders and in Western countries through the “Tahrib” using dangerous and illegal routes (across the Gulf of Aden) and travelling under extremely perilous conditions which often leads to death.
While the entire civilian population faces the brutal consequences of instability, women continue to bear the full brunt of this protracted humanitarian and political crisis. In addition to being directly targeted through SGBV by the conflicting groups, they are also often left with the burden of being the sole breadwinners for their families while men join the fighting or seek refuge elsewhere.