The number of grave human rights violations against children in Somalia, from acts of murder and rape to the recruitment of child soldiers to the denial of humanitarian access to those in need, have all increased in the past year, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today in a new report to the Security Council. The Secretary-General accused both the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and anti-Government groups of committing serious violations against children, and said that children are being killed and maimed as a result of military actions by Ethiopian troops in confrontations with the anti-Government forces as well as with civilian demonstrators. ‘The widespread use of children in almost all fighting forces in the country was noted, particularly in Mogadishu,’ the Secretary-General reported, adding that the recruitment of child soldiers is also increasing, although exact numbers cannot be verified.

Mr. Ban called on the TFG 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 minimize civilian casualties during fighting.’

Somalia has recently seen fighting between the TFG, which is backed by Ethiopian forces, against various anti-Government groups, including remnants of the Union of Islamic Courts, Al-Shabaab insurgents and Hawiye clan militias. Since February 2007, 340,000 have fled fighting in Mogadishu, while 1.9 million Somalis – about 20 per cent of the population – are in need of humanitarian assistance.

The Secretary-General noted that reported cases of rape and other sexual assaults against children rose from 115 last year to 128 this year. He called for investigations into all incidents of grave child rights violations and also urged the TFG to end the detention of children and to control the proliferation of small arms.

In addition, the Secretary-General 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. The TFG ‘is also urged to engage in a genuine reconciliation process with all factions within the country to create conditions for security and stability.’ Yesterday, Mr. Ban welcomed a peace deal that was initiated in neighbouring Djibouti between the TFG and the opposition Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, following 10 days of United Nations-facilitated talks.