Yemen children: from schools to war

Yemen children
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Hundreds of Yemen children have been recently recruited by the militia and Islamic groups, especially the Houthi group, forcing them to take part in armed conflict.

This long-term issue has been ongoing since the former President Saleh’s regime forces used to recruit children and minors. Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi issued in late November 2012, a Republican decision to not to recruit children under 18-years-old in the army or security forces, but it seems this decision was never implemented.

Families’ difficult financial situations have been exploited, with the children being sent to the war fields in the name of boosting the troops. The Houthis have used their authority to issue identity cards for these children and clear evidence has surfaced regarding this activity.

The recruitment of children is morally and legally unacceptable and is prohibited under international law. These children have been abducted from their families by the Ansar Allah group (Al-Houthi group) and al-Qaeda group under the sight of the human rights organizations, but there is no public denouncement of violations.

Houthis are killing the innocence of childhood and throwing them to their wars in Yemen, where children become an economically efficient substitute to adult fighters. Furthermore, they are the easiest in terms of being ideologically influenced due to the children’s young ages. The militia’s recklessness to push children to the front of battles, when they are lacking in any combat skills, is a dangerous way of exploiting the children’s families’ dire need for financial help.

International reports revealed the growing phenomenon of child recruitment in Yemen, especially since the beginning of the protest movement and political crunch in the country following the Arab Spring. One report recorded the deaths of 159 children, as well as 363 others who were injured during the year 2011.

Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda members, Ansar al-Sharia, keep convincing the children that if they die they will go to heaven immediately. These children have been deprived of education by those armed religious groups. Clearly, this recruitment has nothing to do with Islam and in the history of Islam, children have never participated in wars.

Many children have been kidnapped and beaten into submission, while others joined the Al-Houthi militant group fleeing from poverty, in order to protect their community, or out of a sense a desire for revenge.

Unemployment, poverty, low social awareness, shutting down large number of schools and the declining standard of education are driving factors for the recruitment of children in Yemen. Houthi militia misleads children by pretending to take them to attend educational sessions or deceiving them that their duties would in civilian facilities, but instead they are transferred to the battlefront.

Economic and living conditions of the poor drive a lot of families to seek job opportunities for their children even if it is at an early age, or ask them to carry arms as long as they do not have involvement within the armed religious groups as families will rarely accept or consent to that.

Children take a direct role in the fighting, where the role of children is not limited to wars only, but they are assigned to extra support duties, for example, where they often carry heavy loads, including ammunition or injured soldiers and some of the children are used as scouts, messengers, cooks and to carry out other routine duties.

Houthi militia send children to the lines of the coup rebel armies. On the other side, the armed groups like al-Qaeda, train children to serve their goals, and their families send them into abominable conditions, often for a number of reasons. Children are trained to fight and to serve military leaders, starting from the clean-up work at the military headquarters, through to reconnaissance and transport news. Often, sexual exploitation also occurs.

Regardless who is the party behind arming children, intimidating or enticing them; such group do not take into consideration the UN Conventions (Convention on the Rights of the Child, The Geneva Conventions) and international protocols (Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which entered into force in 2002) nor treaties, which confirm to ensure that not involve children in hostilities, and take feasible measures to prevent such recruitment and use.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) monitored a frightening increase in the recruitment and use of children in Yemen in 2015 compared to previous years. The documented cases have reached from the beginning of 2015 until the beginning of December 2015, 848 cases of children recruited, compared to 156 cases monitored in 2014 only. However, locals estimate the situation to be darker and inconsistent with the reality that the number of child recruitment remains high and far from the numbers recorded by monitoring organizations and activists.

According to the latest United Nations reports in Yemen, there are nearly 1300 schools that were destroyed by the war, while (3600) schools were closed before the end of the 2015 academic year. This is equivalent to 70% of the total schools in Yemen which resulted in depriving nearly 3 million children out of school and nearly 500,000 students from further education because of the absurdity of war propagated by Al-Houthi and Saleh-led militias.

A UNICEF report entitled Education Under Fire indicates that the war in Yemen prompted thousands of children to abandon books and pencils and go to fight in the ranks of the parties to the conflict. UNICEF included Yemeni authorities – the Houthi group, armed forces, regular army and the group Ansar al-Sharia, who are linked to al-Qaeda and its stronghold province of Abyan, on its blacklist of organisations that exploit and use children in armed conflict in Yemen.

The problem of the recruitment of Yemen’s children has reached crisis point and now desperately requires the international community to raise their voices and help stop these crimes on the most vulnerable.


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