Saudi-led coalition recruiting child soldiers to fight Houthis
Desperately poor children in Yemen are being used by the Saudi-led coalition to fight on the frontlines against Houthi rebels, Al Jazeera reported on Monday.
The Yemeni child soldiers are recruited from among poor families in Taiz and government-held areas in the south, before being sent over the Saudi border, to defend the kingdom from frequent Houthi attacks.
Recruiters and people traffickers often promise the teenagers work in kitchens with lucrative salaries, but the children end up at training camps and later engaged in battles with Houthi rebels, who are at war with the Yemeni government and Saudi-led coalition.
"We went because we were told we would be working in a kitchen and making 3,000 Saudi riyals ($800)... so we believed them and got on the bus," 16-year-old Ahmad al-Naqib told Al Jazeera.
They are then passed along a trafficking route across the war-torn country to the Saudi border, where they are given ID cards and spirited across the border to training camps in the kingdom.
Al Jazeera called one trafficker asking to travel to a military camp in Saudi Arabia with three teenage boys, with the Yemani man agreeing to facilitate the journey.
"Don't worry, there are many just like them," he told the reporter, when he raised concerns they might be turned away from the border for being too young.
"Don't worry, this stuff isn't important to us. What is important is that they are good soldiers. Can they handle guns?" he was told during a follow-up call.
Ahmad said that people along the way told him they were only paid half their promised salaries every few months.
"They give you your gun and send you to the front lines," Ahmad was told.
Sana Uqba from The New Arab said that child soldiers have been used throughout the conflict.
"The truth is all factions involved in the Yemen conflict have exploited the economic hardships of families to aid in their recruitment of soldiers. The pro-government coalition forces offer around 60,000 Yemeni Rial to children who join their ranks and considering the situation for most families at the moment, thats a large carrot on a stick."
Parents of the child soldiers told Al Jazeera they didn't hear from their children again after they were taken by the people traffickers.
Many of those who disappeared are believed to have been killed in battle, the broadcaster reported.
Yemen's war broke out in September 2014, when Houthi rebels and the military took over the capital Sanaa and forced the government to flee south.
It escalated - and casualties skyrocketed - when a Saudi-led coalition intervened in the war, launching hundreds of airstrikes across the country and tightening a siege on rebel-held areas.
Both sides in Yemen's war have used child soldiers, including the Houthi rebels who control the capital Sanaa and other parts of northern Yemen.
The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of recruiting child soldiers from Sudan's Darfur region to fight against the Houthi rebels.