International report: The Houthis exploited the disbursement of UN aid to recruit children

English - الأحد 05 فبراير 2023 الساعة 05:30 م
Aden, NewsYemen, exclusive:

 A report published by the Arab Center, Washington, DC, stated that the children of Yemen are paying a heavy price because of the Houthi militia's investment in this segment since the outbreak of the conflict in 2014.

 The center explained that children were pushed to the front lines by the machinations of investing leaders, financial need, and tribal solidarity, and that this price will continue to accumulate for years to come and will affect the entire Yemeni society.

The report, prepared by the researcher at the center, Afrah Nasser, added that, apart from the fact that child recruitment is a war crime under international law, using Yemen's children as fuel for a seemingly endless war will deprive them and their country of the opportunity to build an economy and a sovereign state.

The researcher said: Walking down any street in Sana’a, which is controlled by the Houthi rebel group (officially known as Ansar Allah), one quickly notices posters and pictures plastered on walls and billboards showing the group’s child soldiers killed in the war.  They are all in military uniform.  She explained that the Houthi armed group had recruited and used thousands of children in the fighting.

According to the statement of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in 2017 that the majority of reports it received on child recruitment were committed by the popular committees affiliated with the Houthis, the local Yemeni human rights organization, SAM for Rights and Freedoms, reported in partnership with the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, in 2021  The data I have collected shows that the Houthi group alone has recruited 10,333 children since 2014. Although active fighting declined after a series of truces last year, and despite the Houthis' pledge to the United Nations in April to end child recruitment, the group continues to recruit children.

The report of the Arab Center, Washington, DC: Children who work as combatants in armed groups and militias usually participate in wars in a variety of ways, including fighting, espionage, planting mines, and working at security checkpoints.

The report stated: There are always children in Yemen in abundance, nearly half of Yemen's population of 34 million people is under the age of 18. Given the deep economic crisis the country is currently facing, children have fallen victim to economic exploitation amid increasing poverty.  Child soldiers in Yemen come from poor families and areas and are lured with money.

The report noted that the Houthis easily lured children with the promise of a salary of 20,000 Yemeni riyals, a daily supply of qat, tobacco, and other benefits.  This makes the child feel that he will be in a better economic position soon and will be able to transfer some money to his family and thus improve his economic situation as well.

Child recruitment in exchange for aid

 The report revealed that international humanitarian aid played an important role in the process of recruiting children, according to numerous reports by local media, as the Houthi group stole humanitarian aid with the aim of exploiting people's need for this aid in order to recruit their children.  Several reports documented that the group diverted aid to its military efforts.

Researcher Afrah Nasser's report confirmed that the Houthi armed group has an advanced recruitment system in view of its long history of recruiting children since the 1990s, a system that includes brokers, Houthi supervisors, teachers and neighborhood elders, explaining that the children recruited by the group go to a children's camp, where they receive military training inside the so-called camps that have been transformed from camps held during the summer to open camps throughout the year.

According to the report, the Houthis have transformed the traditional schools to become more like organizing the old summer camps.  Especially after the extensive changes within the school curricula supervised by the second most important man in the armed Houthi militia, Yahya Badr al-Din al-Houthi, brother of the group's leader.

Serious repercussions

 The Arab Center, Washington, DC, confirmed that the repercussions of child recruitment, if not dealt with carefully and comprehensively, will negatively affect peacebuilding efforts, especially since many child soldiers return again and again, explaining that the increasing militarization of Yemen's youth is one of the factors affecting on the possibility of conflict erupting again in the future even if peace is achieved in the short term.

He added that comprehensively addressing child recruitment today will help reduce the chances of a return to conflict tomorrow.  Explaining that the recruitment of children in the war in Yemen is not only a basic human rights issue;  Rather, it is a profound issue of peace. No society can achieve peace by turning its children into soldiers.

The report stresses the need for any possible political agreement or negotiations to end the conflict in Yemen to include a clause prohibiting the recruitment and use of children in any form of hostilities.  

The UN and other stakeholders should then establish monitoring procedures to identify individuals and groups that violate such an agreement.

In its report, the Arab Center called on Washington, DC, for the international community to donate generously to the rehabilitation and reintegration programs organized and run by Yemeni civil society organizations that document the recruitment of children into military activities.  Rethink the funding of its humanitarian aid, limit the ways in which local armed groups can manipulate aid to fuel child recruitment, and ensure that aid is distributed independently and without interference.

According to the report: The children of Yemen will soon be the ones building the future of their country, but in order to do so, they must first be allowed to enjoy a real childhood free from exploitation and violence.