Vulnerable children hardest-hit in Mogadishu fighting

At only 14, Ali Hussein Sid is already the sole breadwinner of his family, his father having been killed in Somalia's ongoing civil war and his mother seriously injured when a mortar landed on their home in the capital, Mogadishu.

As a shoe-shiner, Sid sometimes goes home empty-handed as customers are hard to come by in war-torn Mogadishu, where fighting between government troops and Islamist insurgents has been most intense in recent months.

"My family depends on what I make shining shoes in the city but sometimes I go back home without making a cent," he told IRIN on 13 July. "I feel very alone when I am faced with a problem."

The situation for orphaned and vulnerable children such as Sid is especially critical in Somalia as there is no government support and assistance for them.

The absence of a central government since the ousting of President Siad Barre in 1992 resulted in the collapse of the government's support system for the vulnerable across the country.

Ahmed Dini, a civil society activist and member of Peace Line Group, a local NGO, said orphaned and vulnerable children had borne the brunt of Somalia's 18-year civil war.

"A lot of the orphans and vulnerable children lost their parents in the ongoing violence," Dini said. "They are among the people facing the hardest times in the whole country; in fact the most vulnerable people in the country now are the orphans as they were forced to flee from their homes yet they do not have fathers to be responsible for them."

He said the numbers of children on the streets was continuing to rise as the conflict worsens.

Dini said the children just wanted a childhood. "When we talk to them, they want to go to school and play football. They basically want to be children."

There is a new phenomenon of children taking care of other children "because both parents have died and there are no relatives to help", Dini said.

He said the long civil war had eroded the social support network that sustained Somalis.

"The absence of [a] government structure is the greatest factor causing daily problems [for these children]," Dini said. "It would be good to get a strengthened institution that would care for young Somali orphans."

Meanwhile, Sid continues to struggle to make ends meet in his home in Howl-Wadag district of Mogadishu.

"My father died last year and my mother was seriously injured when a heavy mortar landed on our old home," Sid told IRIN. "No one cares about us. We need to go to school and we deserve to get our rights [just] as those children whose parents are alive."

Sid appealed to the international community and Somalis in the diaspora to help orphaned and vulnerable children.

"I am requesting different relief organizations to assist us; my family and I are in a critical condition, we need help," he said, adding that food and education were their most urgent needs.