Publication Date: 
Tue, 2010-11-09 23:03

Radhika Coomaraswamy told reporters that a teen was among jailed pirates she met with during a visit to Somalia last week, and that her delegation heard about child soldiers escaping from the ranks of Islamic militias to become pirates.
“All of the old pirates now are rich, they are either living in Kenya or Somalia, and the people that they send out to actually do the dangerous stuff are young children and youth, between the ages of 15, 16 and 17,” said Coomaraswamy, of Sri Lanka.
Like children recruited to be soldiers in Somalia, she said, child pirates “have no concept of death as adults do, so they are easily exploited ... to do all the fierce fighting.” The 15-member UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on pirates and authorized countries to pursue them in Somalia’s territorial waters. But prosecution of accused pirates has been difficult. An international tribunal is among options the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently offered the Security Council for dealing with the problem.
Coomaraswamy said that as in the case of minors who face war crimes trials, child pirates should be rehabilitated, not tried as adults.
“Hopefully an international tribunal would use the same rules as those used for war crimes, which is that no one under 18 will be prosecuted ... but undergo some kind of rehabilitation. I would advocate for that,” she said.
Piracy has become a lucrative business for organized criminal gangs who board ships in the Gulf of Aden or the Indian Ocean — one of the world’s busiest sea lanes — and hold them, their crews and cargos for ransom.
Human rights groups and media outlets have reported about the existence of child soldiers in Somalia for years. One Somali human rights group has estimated that thousands of child soldiers are used by both the weak, UN-backed government and Islamist militias like Al-Shabab that are trying to overthrow it.
Although the number of child soldiers in Somalia is unclear, Coomaraswamy said the recruitment of underaged combatants fighting on all sides of the Somali conflict has risen in recent months through radio broadcasts and in schools.
Children make up the bulk of Somalia’s estimated 7.5 million residents.
Coomaraswamy met with Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and other officials during her visit to Somalia and received assurances that the government will work with the United Nations to release and rehabilitate child soldiers in its army.
In a recent report, Ban accused both Somalia’s government and Al-Shabab of trying to maim or kill children by putting them in the line of fire.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since clan-based warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, sinking the Horn of Africa nation into chaos.

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