- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 14, 2012

DHOBLEY, SomaliaAdan Abdi worries that the students in his class show too little interest in education.

That might be a common complaint among teachers, but Mr. Abdi’s concerns go further: His students are interested in playing war.

Mr. Abdi is a teacher in southern Somalia, a region that has been dominated by militia violence for years.

“Students here are not so much interested in learning, because they can see a lot of people carrying guns,” said the 22-year-old English teacher.

“Small guys like them are carrying guns, when they go from [school] to their houses … they pretend to be fighting using sticks like guns.

“That’s what they have in their hearts. Their intention: That they will fight when they grow older,” Mr. Abdi said.

UNICEF says an entire generation of children has grown up knowing only conflict and fighting in many parts of Somalia, and possibly thousands of children have been trained in combat.

Sikander Khan, the top official for the U.N. children’s agency in Somalia, said there is an increased need to invest more in Somalia’s youth and children in order to give long-term peace a chance to prevail.

“We need to make sure that this generation receives quality basic education, access to social services and protection from violence and abuse,” he said. “This will stop them being sucked into the continuing violence and they will then be able to make a positive and lasting contribution to the future of Somalia.”

Many children in Somalia have little or no education. Only about a third of children of primary-school age are enrolled in school, according to UNICEF.

Children in Somalia frequently are forced to join armed groups such as the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab. Schools also have come under attack.

“It is estimated that thousands of children have been trained in the use of arms and other skills related to combat. Reports from our partners indicate that in recent months there has been an increase in the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict by warring partners,” Mr. Khan said.

Mohamed Deq Nur, a 14-year-old student in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, said he remembers 2006 because he went a month without hearing a gunshot.

That year a group called the Islamic Courts Union brought some semblance of order when they took control of Somalia and tried to enforce their strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Mohamed said he has seen dead bodies on the street - most recently, when a man was shot because he refused to give a thief his watch.

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