Houthis 'recruiting children to fight in Yemen'

Houthis 'recruiting children to fight in Yemen'
4 min read
12 May, 2015
Feature: The Houthi movement is reportedly drafting child soldiers to fight in Yemen's civil war, targeting anyone who can hold a weapon.
The Houthis are recruiting very young soldiers to fight for them [AFP]
Evidence is increasing that children are being recruited to fight in the ongoing civil war in Yemen.

A recent recruit to the forces of the Houthis told al-Araby al-Jadeed that the movement was recruiting children who were big enough to carry a weapon, regardless of their age.

Activists have shared videos of Houthi child recruits under the age of 18 in tears after they were captured in Aden, and some children have reportedly been killed in Taiz.

Another source in the Houthi movement told al-Araby al-Jadeed that the Houthi movement had recruited 5,000 people from Taiz before the recent clashes began, many of whom are now fighting on the front lines. Some of these fighters, visible in and around Taiz, appear to be underage.

Child recruitment prevention measures aborted

Activists have shared videos of Houthi child recruits under the age of eighteen in tears after they were captured in Aden.

The head of the Seyaj Organisation for Childhood Protection, Ahmed al-Qurashi, says that the organisation's attempts to prevent the recruitment of children had to be stopped when the Houthis entered Sanaa.

President Hadi's government has acknowledged the problem of child recruitment and taken some positive steps, Qurashi said, and the UN has also taken an interest in the issue.

However, after the Houthi takeover of the Yemeni capital all measures to combat the recruitment of children have ceased.

He told al-Araby: "The recruitment of children was carried out by all militias, but to varying degrees. National and international organisations have found that the Houthis practice this widely, but we can't say that the other parties are innocent. In fact, all sides are recruiting children."

Qurashi says that there are no statistics about the number of child soldiers fighting in the current war, but there are estimates and observations by Seyaj's volunteers, based on interviews with child recruits. He said there had been an estimated 200 percent increase in the recruitment of children in the various conflicts taking place in Yemen.

Taiz field observations

In Taiz, it is very easy to spot child soldiers on the streets of the city. One child seen carrying a huge rifle refused to be interviewed. Another, smaller child, carrying a rifle bigger than himself was escorted away by older fighters.

Faruq Abdul Rahim, a citizen of Taiz, told al-Araby that he saw young soldiers aged between 16 and 17 in the Jawlat al-Qasr area of Taiz, which is controlled by Houthi forces and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. They were wearing uniforms with stars on them, indicating they were officers.

Poverty is to blame

Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East. The economic insecurity of the majority of its inhabitants is the main factor behind child recruitment. Parents who allow their children to be recruited are tempted by the 30,000 Yemeni riyal ($140) salaries, which helps families meet their basic needs.

Ahmed Rashid's father allowed him to join forces loyal to Salih and the Houthis in Taiz for this reason.

Sadiq al-Makhlafi, a psychology professor at Taiz University, said child soldiers develop emotional disabilities.

A sociology professor at Taiz University, Mujib Shamsan, said that children essentially become a means for some families to make money. Poorer, uneducated families are susceptible to incitement and persuasion by the militias that recruit children. Shamsan said the recruitment of children would lead to social conflict in the future.

"Child fighters develop a mistaken impression of the world and hold grudges against other people," he said. "Children at this age don't understand that there will be a time after the war. They will always believe that they have an enemy to fight."

Destroyed future

A psychology professor at Taiz University, Sadiq al-Makhlafi, said that child soldiers develop emotional disabilities. They become a burden to families with limited income after the war ends, and grow up to become unstable and aggressive individuals who create endless problems for society.

Maklafi said: "We find that many of the children become really fired up in war and some of them fight in the first rows on the battlefield. Some of them are orphans who were recruited to fight in Taiz and Aden.

"Their poverty has been exploited and they become killing machines who fight relentlessly and without mercy. In the process, the future of the nation they are a part of is destroyed."

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.