Country Profiles

Somalia

Islamic militants recruited large numbers of children from school and abducted girls for forced marriage to fighters. Suicide bombings targeting students took a very heavy toll, and schools and universities were used as military bases for fighting.1355

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Context

Since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991, Somalia has been wracked by a civil conflict marked by widespread abuses against civilians and with devastating effects on education, including the destruction and damage of schools and universities and the closure of education facilities for long periods of time, particularly in the south and central parts of the country.1356 In many areas, only private schools have been operational.1357 As of 2012, an estimated 1.8 million school-age children were out of school in the south-central zones of Somalia.1358

School enrolment rates were among the lowest in the world; the net attendance rate1359 was 18 per cent for boys and 15 per cent for girls at primary school level, and 12 per cent for boys and 8 per cent for girls at secondary level (2007-2011).1360 Only 20 per cent of the population was literate in 2012.1361

The conflict intensified in late 2006, following the overthrow of the Islamist Court Union (ICU) by Ethiopian armed forces. An offshoot of the ICU, an armed Islamist group known as Al-Shabaab slowly began to establish control over Mogadishu and other areas of south and central Somalia.1362 Government forces, backed at different times by Ethiopian, Kenyan and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops,1363 along with government-affiliated militia including the Sufi Islamist group Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a (ASWJ)1364 and more recently the Ras Kamboni clan militia,1365 have been fighting Al-Shabaab. After mid-2011 and especially in 2012, the African Union forces and Ethiopian troops, alongside Somali government forces and allied militia, regained control of a number of towns held by Al-Shabaab in south-central Somalia. However, Al-Shabaab retains authority over large swathes of south-central Somalia, particularly in rural areas of the country.1366

Attacks on schools

The UN verified 79 attacks on education between January 2011 and December 2012 alone, affecting at least 5,677 children.1367 However, security challenges and lack of access to large areas of south-central Somalia made it impossible to determine the exact number of schools, students and education staff attacked.1368

Indiscriminate mortar fire exchanged in civilian areas, particularly in the country’s capital Mogadishu, endangered schools, damaging and destroying buildings and killing or wounding students and teachers. For example, a mortar shell that landed in a Koranic school killed four students and wounded 10 others during fighting between Transitional Federal Government armed forces and armed groups in Mogadishu on 13 January 2009.1369 On 25 February 2009, two schools were damaged, six schoolchildren killed and another 13 wounded during an exchange of fire between the TFG/AMISOM military and insurgents, also in Mogadishu.1370

Several students reported to Human Rights Watch that their schools had been targeted by Al-Shabaab, including during the Ramadan Offensive in Mogadishu in August 2010. For example, one boy recounted that his school had been ‘continually attacked’ by Al-Shabaab during the offensive and that, in one incident, a neighbouring classroom had been shelled. Another student claimed that in Baidoa, in late 2010, Al-Shabaab militants pulled up outside his school and shelled it.1371

Explosives placed on or near school grounds seriously endangered students and teachers. In one case, a bomb planted near Mahamud Harbi Secondary School, in Wardhigley, exploded in November 2011, killing four children.1372 In August 2012, explosives left outside a school killed at least six children aged from 5 to 10 and injured at least four more who were playing with them in the town of Balad.1373

Attacks on school students, teachers and other education personnel

In October 2011, a suicide attack by Al-Shabaab1374 at the Ministry of Education killed an estimated 100 or more people,1375 many of whom were students and parents waiting for scholarship examination results. Another suicide bombing at Benadir University’s graduation ceremony (see Attacks on higher education) in Mogadishu killed the Minister of Education in December 2009;1376 and eight students were killed in a suicide bombing on school grounds carried out by an 11-year-old disguised as a food seller in October 2009.1377

In areas it controlled, Al-Shabaab imposed its interpretation of Islam on schools and threatened or killed teachers for refusing to comply with its demands.1378 This included prohibiting the teaching of English, geography and history; forcing the separation of girls and boys in schools and restricting girls’ dress; preventing women from teaching; imposing their own teachers in schools; and using class time to teach extreme Islamist ideology.1379 The US State Department reported that, in at least one instance in 2011, Al-Shabaab offered to reward academic achievement with AK-47 rifles.1380 In September 2009, Al-Shabaab warned against using UN-provided textbooks, claiming they were teaching students ‘un-Islamic’ subjects. They also called for parents not to send their children to schools using a UN-supported curriculum.1381 In April 2010, Al-Shabaab reportedly forbade schools in Jowhar from announcing the end of classes with bells because they were reminiscent of those rung in churches.1382 This violence and harassment has caused teachers to flee, hundreds of schools to close for varying lengths of time, and students, particularly girls, to drop out in large numbers.1383

In one instance, a teacher reported to Human Rights Watch that he fled Somalia in 2011 after the head teacher and deputy at his school were shot for refusing to stop teaching certain subjects. At his previous school, Al-Shabaab fighters had stabbed him in the upper lip with a bayonet while he was teaching a geography lesson and had abducted a female teacher not wearing a hijab. Her body was later found near the town mosque.1384

In a similar vein, Hizbul Islam, an armed Islamist group which merged with Al-Shabaab in late 2010, reportedly arrested a head teacher who had raised a Somali flag over his school in December 2009. The group replaced the flag with a black Islamist one. Students took to the street in protest, drawing fire from Hizbul Islam militants that killed at least two students and injured another five.1385 In other instances, teachers were targeted for refusing to enlist students as Al-Shabaab fighters (see Child recruitment from schools).

Some teachers, students and education officials were also kidnapped and held for ransom during 2009-2012 including the education minister for the region of Galmudug, reportedly for refusing to pay a ransom for the release of a kidnapped student.1386

Insecurity and Al-Shabaab threats impeded humanitarian and development assistance for education, with particular agencies, humanitarian workers, offices and supplies targeted.1387 Al-Shabaab proclaimed a ban on more than a dozen individual agencies from 2009 onwards and imposed another ban in 2011 on 16 aid organizations operating in areas under its control, including several UN agencies.1388 On 6 January 2009, three masked gunmen shot and killed 44-year-old Somali national Ibrahim Hussein Duale while he was monitoring school feeding in a World Food Programme-supported school in the Gedo region.1389

Military use of schools

Between May 2008 and March 2010, armed groups used at least 34 schools.1390 In some cases, multiple groups occupied the same school at different times. For example, Waaberi primary school located in Gedo was used by TFG forces, ASWJ, Ethiopian Defence Forces (EDF) and Al-Shabaab in August 2009. It was used as a defensive fort, resulting in heavy damage to the buildings.1391

Military use of schools continued in 2011 and 2012. According to the UN, Al-Shabaab used a school in Elwak district, Gedo region, in August 2011, interrupting the education of over 500 children; the school had been used intermittently by armed groups since February 2011.1392 In December 2011, Al-Shabaab militia established an operations centre at a secondary school in Merka district, Lower Shabelle region.1393 TFG forces also reportedly used schools in Mogadishu.1394 A UN respondent reported that in 2012 at least five schools in the Bay, Gedo and Hiraan regions of central and southern Somalia were occupied or used as hospitals, police stations or prisons by Al-Shabaab, EDF, Somali National Armed Forces (SNAF) and regional authorities, affecting some 1,933 children.1395 In late May 2012, following the takeover of the Afgooye corridor by AMISOM and TFG forces, the TFG and its National Security Agency (NSA) rounded up dozens of people and used the Afgooye Secondary School as a base and a detention centre.1396

Schools were also used as firing bases. Al-Shabaab launched artillery attacks from school grounds, drawing return fire from TFG and AMISOM forces. In some cases, students and teachers were inside.1397 For example, Human Rights Watch reported that in 2010 Al-Shabaab fighters used a school in Mogadishu as a firing position while students were still in the classrooms. Pro-government forces returned fire, and five rockets hit the school compound. One rocket struck just as the students were leaving, killing eight.1398

Al-Shabaab occupied some schools after they had been closed due to insecurity, making it impossible for classes to resume and risking damage or destruction of education facilities. Others were used as weapons caches.1399

Child recruitment from schools

When fighting intensified in Mogadishu in mid-2010, Al-Shabaab increasingly recruited children from schools in order to fill its dwindling ranks. Boys and girls were recruited from schools by force as well as by enticing them with propaganda and material rewards.1400 A number of children interviewed by Human Rights Watch in May and June 2011 reported that Al-Shabaab members had taught in their classrooms, encouraging them to join the group and promising ‘entry into paradise’ for those who died fighting.1401

While the exact numbers of children recruited are not known, the UN indicated that Al-Shabaab abducted an estimated 2,000 children for military training in 2010.1402 At least another 948 children were recruited in 2011, mainly by Al-Shabaab and mostly from schools and madrassas.1403 Human Rights Watch reported that it had interviewed 23 Somali children recruited or abducted by Al-Shabaab in 2010 and 2011; 14 had been taken from schools or while en route, which gives some indication of the extent to which schools were ready sites for forced recruitment and abduction.1404 Of the 79 attacks on education recorded by the UN from January 2011 to December 2012, 21 involved the recruitment of 244 children (21 girls and 223 boys) from schools by anti-government elements.1405

Teachers and school managers also received orders from Al-Shabaab and other armed groups to enlist students or release them for training.1406 The UN reported that in June 2010 alone, Al-Shabaab ordered teachers and school managers in Lower Shabelle to release more than 300 students to be trained, threatening punishment for failure to comply.1407 In October 2011, Al-Shabaab was reported to have closed two of the biggest schools in the capital of the lower Shabelle region after the head teachers refused to recruit students to fight.1408 In May 2011, the UN reported the murder of a teacher in the Hiraan region by Al-Shabaab for having objected to child recruitment.1409 In February 2012, five teachers were reportedly arrested for failing to enlist their students in military training.1410

Human Rights Watch research in Somalia found evidence of girls being taken from schools and forced to become ‘wives’ of Al-Shabaab fighters. In one case, the girls were selected at gunpoint; one who refused to be taken was shot in front of her classmates. In another, after 12 girls were taken by Al-Shabaab, the teacher reported that some 150 female students dropped out of school.1411 He also reported that a 16-year-old girl who was taken was beheaded and her head was brought back and shown to the remaining girls at the school as a warning because she had refused to marry a fighter much older than she was.1412

Attacks on higher education

Attacks on higher education facilities

Bombs and mortar fire damaged at least two universities, in one case killing university personnel. For example, Al-Shabaab allegedly destroyed a Sufi Muslim university in central Somalia in 2009.1413 In March 2011, a mortar hit a Somali University building in the Bar Ubah neighbourhood of Mogadishu, killing a university lecturer, wounding two security guards and destroying a section of lecture halls. It is unclear whether the attack was intentional.1414 In October 2011, a bomb exploded at Gaheyr University, targeting TFG/AMISOM troops based there. In November 2011, a bomb left in the middle of the road in the vicinity of the university also exploded.1415

Attacks on higher education students, academics and personnel

At least one attack on higher education students and personnel was reported. In December 2009, a male suicide bomber disguised as a veiled woman blew himself up during a Benadir University medical school graduation ceremony in Mogadishu, killing 22 people including the ministers of education, higher education and health, the dean of the medical school, professors, students and their relatives, and wounding at least 60 more.1416 Though suspected, Al-Shabaab denied having committed the attack.1417

Military use of higher education facilities

Reports indicate that armed groups, AMISOM and government troops also used university campuses, particularly during the 2012 military campaigns that drove Al-Shabaab out of several of their urban strongholds. In January 2012, after a heavy gun battle, AMISOM troops succeeded in forcing Al-Shabaab out of its positions in and around the buildings of Mogadishu University, among several other key areas in the northern outskirts of Mogadishu.1418 In September 2012, AMISOM and Somali National Army troops captured Kismayo University in the northern part of Kismayo during an operation to take control of the city and used it as a temporary military base for nearly a month.1419 Gaheyr University was reported to have been serving as an AMISOM base in 2011,1420 while Ethiopian troops used Hiraan University as a military base in early 2012, forcing the university to set up a makeshift campus inside the town of Beletweyne.1421

Attacks on education in 2013

The number of attacks reported to the UN during the period from January to September was lower in comparison to the same period in 2012, most likely due to lower general levels of conflict.1422 As of September, a total of 42 attacks on education had been reported compared with 63 attacks during the same period of the previous year.1423 Almost half of these attacks occurred in the Benadir region and many were associated with security operations conducted by government security forces while searching for Al-Shabaab elements.1424

In January, AMISOM troops were alleged to have fired mistakenly on a religious school in a village 120 kilometres west of Mogadishu while pursuing militants, killing five children under the age of 10.1425 In March, two children died and three more were injured when a student unwittingly triggered an IED at a Koranic school in Heraale, Galgadud region.1426

Endnotes: 

1355 This profile covers attacks on schools in 2009-2012, with an additional section on 2013.

1356 Gonzalo Retamal and Mudiappasamy Devadoss, “Education in a Nation with Chronic Crisis: The Case of Somalia,” in Gonzalo Retamal and Ruth Aedo-Richmond (eds), Education as a Humanitarian Response (London: Cassell, 1998);Peter Moyi, “School Enrollment and Attendance in Central South Somalia,” SAGE Open.

1357 Since 1995, the rebuilding of education or the establishment of new schools has been undertaken predominantly by NGOs and the private sector: see Lee Cassanelli and Sheikh Abdikadir, “Somalia: Education in Transition,” 105-107.

1358 Somalia Education Cluster, “Education – Somalia,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) website, last accessed on 18 December 2013.

1359 As stated in the methodology section, the statistical information on enrolment and literacy rates in profiled countries should be treated with caution, especially in the case of those countries that have experienced considerable disruption due to armed conflict, insecurity or instability. Though formally correct, such statistical data may contain outdated information and may not capture with full accuracy the actual educational situation of a country.

1360 “Statistics – Somalia,” UNICEF, accessed 20 February 2013.

1361 Somalia Education Cluster, “Education – Somalia,” OCHA website.

1362 “Analysis: Who Is Fighting Whom in Somalia?,” IRIN News, 2 September 2009.

1363 In late 2011, Kenya agreed to put its forces in Somalia under general AMISOM command, as did Ethiopia in late 2013.

1364 Sudarsan Raghavan, “In Somalia’s war, a new challenger is pushing back radical al-Shabab militia,” Washington Post, 27 May 2010.

1365 “Ras Kamboni Movement,” Mapping militant organizations website, Stanford University, accessed on 18 December 2013; and information provided by Human Rights Watch on 31 October 2013.

1366 “Somalia Profile,” BBC News, 13 April 2013.

1367 Information provided by a UN respondent on 21 January 2013.

1368 Ibid.

1369 UNSC, Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in Somalia, S/2010/577, 9 November 2010, para 47.

1370 UNSC, Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in Somalia, S/2010/577, 9 November 2010, para 47.

1371 HRW, No Place for Children: Child Recruitment, Forced Marriage, and Attacks on Schools in Somalia (New York: HRW, February 2012), 64-5.

1372 “The Somali Government Condemns the Recent Wave of Bombings against People in Hospitals and Schools,” AMISOM Daily Media Monitoring, 30 November 2011; and Abdi Guld, “4 Somali Soldiers Killed in Suicide Bomb Attack,” Seattle Times, 30 November 2011.

1373 “Somali Children Blown up in a School Playground,” BBC News, 27 August 2012.

1374 UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/66/782–S/2012/261, 26 April 2012, para 100.

1375 “Forget Secular Education: Somali Militant’s Message before Suicide Attack,” Associated Press, 6 October 2011. 

1376 US Department of State, 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Somalia (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 11 March 2010); Jeffrey Gettleman, “Veiled Bomber Kills 3 Somali Ministers,” New York Times, 3 December 2009; and Nick Wadhams, “Suicide Bombing Marks a Grim New Turnfor Somalia,” Time, 3 December 2009. 

1377 HRW, No Place for Children: Child Recruitment, Forced Marriage, and Attacks on Schools in Somalia (New York: HRW, February 2012), 34.

1378 Ibrahim Mohamed, “Somali Rebels Tell Schools to Scrap U.N. Textbooks,” Reuters, 20 September 2009; and “SOMALIA: Minister Rejects Al-Shabab’s Education Warning,” IRIN News, 22 September 2009; HRW, No Place for Children: Child Recruitment, Forced Marriage, and Attacks on Schools in Somalia (New York: HRW, February 2012), 75-9.

1379 HRW, No Place for Children: Child Recruitment, Forced Marriage, and Attacks on Schools in Somalia (New York: HRW, February 2012), 63, 74-9; Amnesty International, In the Line of Fire – Somalia’s Children under Attack (London, UK: Amnesty International, 20 July 2011), 42-3; Mohamed Shiil, “Students Forced To Leave School To Fight Jihad,” Somalia Report, 18 April 2011; and Mohamed Shiil, “Al-Shabaab Bans Teaching Geography and History,” Somalia Report, 16 October 2011.

1380 US Department of State, 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Somalia (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 24 May 2012), 37.

1381 Ibrahim Mohamed, “Somali Rebels Tell Schools to Scrap U.N. Textbooks,” Reuters, 20 September 2009; and “SOMALIA: Minister Rejects Al-Shabab’s Education Warning,” IRIN News, 22 September 2009.

1382 “Bells Toll No More for Schools in Somali Town,” Reuters, 15 April 2010; and “Landmine Blast Kills 10 People in Somali Capital,” Xinhuanet News, 18 April 2010. 

1383 HRW, No Place for Children: Child Recruitment, Forced Marriage, and Attacks on Schools in Somalia (New York: HRW, February 2012), 75-9.

1384 Ibid., 63.

1385 IASC Somali Protection Cluster, Protection Cluster Update - Weekly Report, 10 December 2009; “Somalia: Islamist Rebels Kill Students in Southern Town,” Mareeg, 9 December 2009; and “Residents, Rebels Clash over Somali Flag,” Africa News, 9 December 2009.

1386 “Somalia: Gunmen Abduct a Minister in Central Somalia,” All Africa, 3 January 2012; and Shiine Omar, Galad Ali Ismail, “Education Minister Released After Kidnapping,” Somalia Report, 3 January 2012.

1387 HRW, No Place for Children: Child Recruitment, Forced Marriage, and Attacks on Schools in Somalia (New York: HRW, February 2012), 16.

1388 Ibid., 15; and Amnesty International, Somalia - Amnesty International Report 2010: Human Rights in Somali Republic (London, UK: Amnesty International, 2011).

1389 World Food Program (WFP), “WFP Demands Safety for Staff in South and Central Somalia,” 22 January 2009.

1390 UNSC, Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in Somalia, S/2010/577, 9 November 2010, para 45; and GCPEA, Lessons in War: Military Use of Schools and Other Education Institutions during Conflict (New York: GCPEA, 2012), 30.

1391 Information provided by a UN respondent on 4 March 2013.

1392 UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/66/782–S/2012/261, 26 April 2012, para 102.

1393 UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/66/782–S/2012/261, 26 April 2012, para 102.

1394 UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/66/782–S/2012/261, 26 April 2012, para 102; and HRW, No Place for Children: Child Recruitment, Forced Marriage, and Attacks on Schools in Somalia (New York: HRW, February 2012).

1395 Information provided by a UN respondent on 4 March 2013.

1396 Information provided by Human Rights Watch based on interviews with eyewitnesses in June 2012.

1397 HRW, No Place for Children: Child Recruitment, Forced Marriage, and Attacks on Schools in Somalia (New York: HRW, February 2012), 1, 4, 66-8.

1398 Ibid., 67-8.

1399 Ibid., 64.

1400 Ibid., 70-1.

1401 Ibid., 23-24.

1402 UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict - Report of the Secretary-General, A/65/820–S/2011/250, 23 April 2011, para 130.

1403 UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict - Report of the Secretary-General, A/66/782–S/2012/261, 26 April 2012, paras 97-8.

1404 HRW, No Place for Children: Child Recruitment, Forced Marriage, and Attacks on Schools in Somalia (New York: HRW, February 2012), 70.

1405 Information provided by a UN respondent on 21 January 2013.

1406 UNSC, Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in Somalia, S/2010/577, 9 November 2010; US Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2012 - Somalia (Washington, DC: Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, 2012), para 24; “SOMALIA: Recruitment of Child Soldiers on the Increase,” IRIN News, 21 March 2011; Mohamed Shiil, “Students Forced To Leave School To Fight Jihad,” Somalia Report, 18 April 2011; Mohamed Shiil, “Insurgents Tell Koranic Schools to Deliver Kids,” Somalia Report, 19 June 2011; “Al-Shabaab Recruits Students in Kismayo,” Suna Times, 3 May 2012; and Mohamed Beerdhige, “Al-Shabaab Forces Teachers To Join Fighting,” 15 January 2012.

1407 UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/65/820–S/2011/250, 23 April 2011, para 136.

1408 “Al Shabaab Close Schools in Lower Shabelle,” AMISOM Media Monitoring Report, 17 October 2011.

1409 UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/66/782–S/2012/261, 26 April 2012, para 102.

1410 Mohamed Abdi Maddaale, “Al-Shabaab Close Koranic Schools in Afgoye. Teachers Arrested for Barring Training and Recruitment of Children,” Somalia Report, 25 February 2012.

1411 HRW, No Place for Children: Child Recruitment, Forced Marriage, and Attacks on Schools in Somalia (New York: HRW, February 2012), 55-6.

1412 Ibid., 57; Alex Spillius, “Al-Shabaab militia abducting teenage girls to marry fighters,” The Telegraph, 21 February 2012.

1413 Abdi Sheikh, ‘UPDATE 4-Somali Shabaab Rebels Say They Shot Down U.S. Drone,” Reuters, 19 October 2009.

1414 “Mortar Kills Lecturer in Somali University,” Bar Kulan, 21 March 2011.

1415 “The Somali Government Condemns the Recent Wave of Bombings against People in Hospitals and Schools,” AMISOM Daily Media Monitoring, 30 November 2011; and “4 Somali Soldiers Killed in Suicide Bomb Attack,” Seattle Times, 30 November 2011.

1416 US Department of State, 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Somalia (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 11 March 2010); Jeffrey Gettleman, “Veiled Bomber Kills 3 Somali Ministers,” New York Times, 3 December 2009; and Nick Wadhams, “Suicide Bombing Marks a Grim New Turnfor Somalia,” Time, 3 December 2009. 

1417 “SOMALIA: Attack on Graduation Ceremony The ‘Last Straw’,” IRIN News, 10 December 2009.

1418 AMISOM, ‘AMISOM forces launch a military offensive to consolidate security in Mogadishu’, 20 January 2012; “AU, Government Troops Seize al-Shabab Positions in Mogadishu,” VOA News, 19 January 2012; “Somalia: Amison invited Mareeg reporter to the latest strategic military bases outside Mogadishu city,” Mareeg, January 2012; and “AU troops battle al-Shabab in outer Mogadishu,” Al Jazeera, 20 January 2012.

1419 AMISOM, “Somali, AMISOM forces on the outskirts of Kismayo,” 30September 2012; and “Somalia: Kenyan Forces Vacate Kismayo University,” Garowe Online, 23 October 2012.

1420 Ismail Hassan, “Explosion at AMISOM Base Kills 4 TFG Soldiers – Bomb Targets AMISOM Base at Gaheyr University in Mogadishu,” Somalia Report, 17 October 2011. 

1421 HRW, “Somalia: Pro-Government Militias Executing Civilians,” 28 March 2012.

1422 Information provided by a UN respondent on 25 October 2013.

1423 Ibid.

1424 Ibid.

1425 Abdi Guled, “Somali Official: AU Troops Killed 7 Civilians,” AP, 17 January 2013.

1426 “Somalia: Bomb explosion kills two children in central Somalia,” RBC Radio, 24 March 2013.