Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Kids 'n' Guns

Imagine a contest that brings together young scholars from different parts of a country, what do you suppose an appropriate prize would be for the winners? A new iPad? A scholarship of some sort? A set of encyclopedias? Well, if the country is Somalia and the group sponsoring the event is the Islamic insurgent group al-Shabaab, the correct answer is cash, and an AK-47.

According to a report on the BBC, those were some of the prizes awarded to boys aged 10-17 in a Koran-reciting contest for children from Shabaab-controlled areas of Somalia. The winners received the equivalent of $700 and an AK-47, second place won $500, and an AK-47, while the third place team received $400 and a pair of hand grenades (yeah, still trying to figure out the logic of that one). The prizes were in keeping with al-Shabaab's philosophy that young men should study the Koran with one hand and hold a gun with the other.

Sadly, child soldiers are nothing new for Somalia. Children are employed as fighters not only by insurgent groups like al-Shabaab, but also by the US-backed Somali Transitional Federal Government, the supposed legitimate rulers of Somalia. Still, potentially giving a 10-year old an automatic weapon as a prize for scholarly achievement is pretty screwed up no matter the reality of the situation. According to the BBC, a similar contest in the Shabaab-controlled port city of Kismayo gave out a rocket-propelled grenade as a top prize.
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