According to various NGOs and United Nations agencies, the use of child soldiers in Somalia has increased since fighting between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) escalated in December. The fighting culminated with the TFG, backed by Ethiopian troops, forcing the UIC from territories in southern Somalia, and the capital, Mogadishu.
"First hand interviews have been conducted with children as young as 11-years-old at checkpoints, and in the vehicles of various parties to the conflict," said Siddharth Chatterjee, the senior programme officer with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Somalia.
The recruitment drive has spread to neighbouring Kenya. Chatterjee added that according to the Northeastern Provincial Commissioner in Kenya, the recruitment of youth from the province by rival armed groups preparing to fight in Somalia began in the last three months of 2006 - most significantly by the UIC.
"An appeal has been made to all parties in the conflict to refrain from recruiting child soldiers and release those already recruited," Chatterjee said. "In Somalia though, an absence of birth registration adds to the degree in difficulty to accurately verify children under 18."
He continued: "There are also reports that the UIC has declared publicly its intention to recruit from schools, and this is most worrying if true."
Ethiopia too ran a conscription campaign before the escalation of the conflict in early December 2006. According to reports from early December 2006, Ethiopian forces stationed in many parts of Ethiopian province Ogaden are reported to have started conscripting civilians into the army and its affiliated militias. The campaign to conscript civilians into the army came after a failed attempt to get civilians voluntarily for the Ethiopian federal military. The failed plan was meant to enlist, for the army, up to one hundred civilian members from each district throughout Ogaden. The conscription campaign is rumored to have the same target and objective.
Ogaden online reporters in Ogaden indicate that the Ogaden civilian population has already expressed its opposition to any conscription. Opposition to the conscription of Ogaden civilians into the army was expressed in many forms to the Ethiopian military leaders who are leading this campaign.
These military leaders were reminded that Ogaden civilians who volunteered for the Ethio-Eriteria war were not given proper care by the Ethiopian government once the hostilities ceased and they were returned to Ogaden. It is reported that the military leaders are said to be dead set on getting the numbers they require for their conscription plans.
There is a twin operation to enlist civilians for a mission whose objectives and aims are yet unknown. The civilians were asked by the Ethiopian military and its affiliated militia heads to provide up to one hundred youth from all sectors of the population.
These military leaders have told the civilians that the youth will be given an educational seminar meant to educate them about the dangers posed by the Somali Union of Islamic Courts (UIC).
Meanwhile, Abdirahman Dinari, the spokesman of the TFG, said Ethiopian forces would remain in Somalia for as long as they were needed to complete their "mission" there. The Ethiopian troops' mission in Somalia is "to provide logistical support and train our forces". Dinari said the Ethiopians were in Somalia at the invitation of the country's government.
In Addis Ababa, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said his troops could leave within two weeks.