Human Rights Watch released in February 2012 a lengthy and devastating report on abuses by al-Shabaab with a focus on recruitment of children. Titled No Place for Children: Child Recruitment, Forced Marriage, and Attacks on Schools in Somalia, the report documents al-Shabaab's targeting of children for recruitment as soldiers, forced marriage, and rape.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 164 newly arrived Somali refugees in the Dadaab refugee camps along the Kenya-Somalia border and in Nairobi in May and June 2011. Interviewees included more than 81 girls and boys who were under the age of 18. Human Rights Watch also interviewed Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) officials and personnel with the United Nations, African Union, diplomatic community and non-governmental organizations.
According to Human Rights Watch, al-Shabaab militants send children to the front lines, often with little training. Several witnesses spoke of children serving effectively as human shields for more experienced fighters during some of the most intense fighting in Mogadishu.
While the available information suggests that the TFG itself does not forcibly recruit children, they have found their way into its ranks, often by volunteering for TFG forces or those of aligned militias, manning checkpoints, and taking part in combat.