By Mohamud M Hassan- Interim Country Director, Save the Children Somalia/Somaliland

Protracted conflicts and natural disasters, have conspired over the years to keep Somalia under the unrelenting grip of poverty. The disintegration of public administration systems, over the years, seriously impacted service delivery, destabilized community protection structures disrupted law and order. Today, Somalis across the country lack primary security services, basic healthcare, education, clean and safe drinking water and employment opportunities for millions of young people are very scarce.

The parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012 no doubt enabled the Federal Government of Somalia to be recognized regionally and internationally. Since then, we have seen positive trends happening in our motherland – gradually restoring our hope for a better and prosperous future, particularly for the children of Somalia. The government has signed the UN convention on the Rights of the Child and has committed to ratify the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. These are binding international and regional frameworks to promote and protect children’s rights including those affected by conflicts. Within these frameworks, the government is obligated to report regularly on the progress with their implementation.

A number of other policies, strategies and plans have been developed and adopted over the years by both the Federal and State Governments including the Rape and Sexual Offences laws passed by Somaliland and Puntland, criminalizing all forms of gender-based violence and sexual offenses including child marriage. All these are important instruments to ensure that Somali children are protected.

However, if we are to consider the experiences of our neighboring countries, it is noticeable that the ratification of international frameworks or enactment of national laws and formulation of policies in themselves are not adequate. Immense challenges lie in implementation. Although a lot of progress has been made in the last few years, assessing the rights and wellbeing of children reveal a disheartening situation for children in Somalia. Children are at risk of family separation, child recruitment, arbitrary arrest, significant exposure to Gender Based Violence (GBV) including child marriage, trafficking, psychosocial distress, lack of access to education and hazardous child labor.

Despite our national challenges, we must protect and invest in our children if we are to quickly turn the tide and take control of our country’s future.

As a matter of fact, at least 3 million children are out-of-school, 2.6 million people have been internally displaced by conflict and droughts (60% of which are children) and, many more are directly exposed to ongoing conflicts. Children continue to be a target—directly or indirectly—in conflicts, forcefully being recruited by armed groups and often lack access to basic services due to active conflict that blocks humanitarian assistance. The 2017 UN report on Children in Armed Conflicts confirmed that at least 2,087 boys and 40 girls were recruited and used by armed groups in Somalia, a significant increase from 1770 reported in 2016. In addition, detention, violence and threats to force families, clan elders and teachers to hand over their children pushes families to free or send their children, often unaccompanied, out of conflict zones to ensure their protection.

Detention of children for their alleged association with armed groups continues to be unabated. These violations against children have devastating impact. The denial of humanitarian access means children can starve to death, they can’t get treatment for illness or injury, while attacks on schools deprive them of their education. Recruitment and sexual violence can affect a child’s physical and mental wellbeing for the rest of their life.

These are just a few of the possible negative impacts – the consequences of failing to protect children in conflict are myriad. War destroys childhoods. Numerous studies conducted by Save the Children have shown that children who are exposed to extreme violence or experience strong, frequent or prolonged adversity can suffer from what’s known as ‘toxic stress’. Continuous toxic stress can have a life-long impact on a child’s mental and physical health.

As World leaders (including heads of states and ministers) and various thought leaders from academia, representatives of industry and NGO representatives among other actors converge in Munich, Germany, on 15th February to discuss security policy issues and challenges, it is important that the government and other stakeholders in Somalia reflect on how to: build resilience and psychosocial wellbeing of boys and girls affected by conflict; enhance monitoring, reporting and response of grave violations of children’s rights; strengthen child protection programs in reintegration and rehabilitation, case management, family tracing and reunification and lastly; establish and strengthen referral pathways for boys and girls affected by armed conflict.

This article reflects the personal opinion of the writer.