Saudi Arabia enlisted poverty-stricken children for Yemen war, offered recruiters cash rewards: UN report

Saudi Arabia enlisted poverty-stricken children for Yemen war, offered recruiters cash rewards: UN report
Families of child soldiers reported being targeted by Saudi-led forces due to their dire economic situation.
3 min read
30 September, 2020
Children in Yemen have suffered shocking levels of violence and abuse [Getty]

Saudi Arabia recruited children to fight against Houthi rebels in Yemen, the Report of the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen said in a report released on Thursday.

The report, which accuses all parties in the conflict of exploiting children, also recorded cases of abduction and sexual abuse.

The Group of Experts documented the cases of at least 259 boys between the ages of 12 and 17  who were recruited between May 2016 and January 2020.

The boys were allegedly transferred from areas in south-central Yemen to Saudi Arabia for training, after which they were deployed to fight against the Iran-backed Houthis in Sanaa.

Family members of the abducted boys say their children were targeted due to their economic vulnerability, with recruiters offering the boys salaries of 20,000 to 60,000 Saudi Riyals ($5332 - $16,000) to attract them.

The local recruiters, in turn, would receive rewards of 1000 Riyals ($266) for each boy brought for training.

“Our family was in a difficult economic situation and needed the money from the promised salary and hoped that our son would stay close to home,” the father of one recruited boy was quoted as saying. 

Child casualties

Over the past year, the report found, there was a high rate of child casualties, along with unlawful attacks against civilians.

One of the most shocking findings of the report was that almost one in three of the civilians killed or maimed in the armed violence in the first half of 2020 were children.

"The evidence presented by the Group of Eminent Experts is clear. Children and their families are not only being killed by bombs and bullets, but countless are also dying silently because they are denied food, access to clean and safe water, and medicines," said Xavier Joubert, Country Director for Save the Children in Yemen.

"These horrific violations show how vulnerable children are during armed conflict. One in three of all casualties is a child – these are horrifying numbers. It must stop and perpetrators should be held accountable. We must break the cycle of impunity – for too long people who have been targeting children in this terrible conflict have gotten away with it."

"In particular, we share the concern raised by the Group on the de-listing of parties to conflict from the UN Secretary’s annual ‘list of shame’ whilst this report shows that children continued to be killed or maimed by airstrikes," Xavier added.

Millions of Yemenis are internally displaced and many are currently facing danger due to the Houthi offensive in Marib.

Yemen's internationally-recognised government has called for UN action to stop the Houthi offensive. It says that approximately three million Yemenis are at risk from fighting there.

"Yemen remains a tortured land, with its people ravaged in ways that should shock the conscience of humanity," said Kamel Jendoubi, the Chairman of the Group of Eminent Experts.

"The international community has a responsibility to put an end to this pandemic of impunity, and should not turn a blind eye to the gross violations that have been committed in Yemen," he added.

"After years of documenting the terrible toll of this war, no one can say ‘we did not know what was happening in Yemen’. Accountability is key to ensure that justice is served to the people of Yemen and to humanity."

Yemen has been left in ruins by six years of war. Yemen's internationally recognised government has been battling the Houthis since 2014, when the latter seized most of the north of the country and the capital, Sana'a.

A Saudi-led military coalition intervened on the side of the government the following year.

More than 100,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions more displaced. The United Nations has called Yemen's conflict the world's worst humanitarian disaster.

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