Yemen: Children as Young as 15 Recruited as Soldiers for Front-Line Combat

Children are being misled or promised financial rewards for picking up Kalashnikovs to defend Yemen against Saudi Arabia — many are recruited/taken away without the knowledge of their families.


In war-torn regions, it’s always the innocents who fare worst, and Yemen’s children are no different.

Due to the proxy war between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran (which started in 2014), nearly 400,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition; many are developing unusual cancers that are usually connected with a nuclear type holocaust; and the lack of medical supplies and staff are currently causing an additional 10,000 preventable deaths per year.

While the use of children by armed forces and rebel groups is one of the worst violations in a civil war/armed conflict, the United Nations has documented the recruitment of nearly 1,500 Yemeni children to be used in front-line combat by Yemen’s warring parties, mostly by the Iran-backed Shia Houthi militias. Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, informed:

“We have received numerous reports of the recruitment of children in Yemen for use in the armed conflict, mostly by the Popular Committees affiliated with the Houthis. In all, between 26 March 2015 and 31 January 2017, the UN has managed to verify the recruitment of 1,476 children, all boys.

“However; the numbers are likely to be much higher as most families are not willing to talk about the recruitment of their children, for fear of reprisals. Just last week, we received new reports of children who were recruited without the knowledge of their families. Children under 18 are either being misled or attracted by promises of financial rewards or social status.”

Demanding that all child soldiers in Yemen must immediately be released, Shamdasani warned:

“We remind all parties to the conflict that the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict is strictly forbidden by international human rights law and international humanitarian law. The recruitment of children under 15 may amount to a war crime.”

Families in Yemen also revealed to Amnesty International how Huthi representatives run local centres that hold activities such as prayers, sermons and lectures where young boys are encouraged to join front-line battles to defend Yemen against Saudi Arabia. Brother of a 16-year-old boy, who was taken away by a local Huthi representative, disclosed:

“They [the children] are just excited to shoot Kalashnikovs and guns and wear military uniforms. They [the Huthis] have been saying that there are so few fighters [at the front line], they are going around taking one [recruit] from each family. If the son dies at the front line, a monthly salary and a gun are given to the father to keep them quiet.”

The families added that there had been an increase in child soldier recruitment due to the fact that many children no longer attend regular schools as the families can no longer afford the transportation costs needed for the children to get to classes.

Confirming the Huthi armed group is actively recruiting boys as young as 15 to fight as child soldiers on the front lines of the conflict in Yemen, Samah Hadid, deputy director at Amnesty International, said:

“It is appalling that Huthi forces are taking children away from their parents and their homes, stripping them of their childhood to put them in the line of fire where they could die. This is a shameful and outrageous violation of international law.

“The Huthis must immediately end all forms of recruitment of children under 18 and release all children within their ranks. The international community should support the rehabilitation and reintegration of demobilized children into the community.”

Last year, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) claimed the widespread destruction of schools and infrastructure in the Saudi-led bombardment of the country was behind children picking up guns and fighting, in exchange for a pay of between £3 and £6 a day.

In its report, UNICEF also warned that Yemen could become a new breeding ground for child soldiers; that child soldiers made up a third of Yemeni fighters; and that their recruitment threatens to prolong the conflict for generations to come.

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