Yemeni child soldiers return home after Saudi Arabia imprisonment

Yemeni child soldiers return home after Saudi Arabia imprisonment
Saudi Arabia said it has returned 54 child soldiers - some only eight-years-old - back to Yemen. Riyadh claims the boys were captured in battle with Houthi rebels.
2 min read
08 June, 2016
Saudi soldiers fire shells into Yemen [AFP]
Saudi Arabia has transferred 54 child prisoners captured during clashes with Houthi rebels to the Yemeni government, Yemen's foreign minister said Tuesday. 

Foreign Minister Abdel Malik al-Mekhlafi said that the move showed that the Saudi-backed government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi "reject the Houthi crime of using children in war".

Mekhlafi also revealed that the captured children were aged between 8 and 17 years old.

"They will be freed in addition to those who had been freed in Marib," in reference to a previous release of captives that had taken place, he wrote on Twitter.

The move comes after Yemen's warring parties pledged to free all child prisoners on Monday, a promise that was brokered in the UN-mediated negotiations that are ongoing.

The rivals concurred regarding the undisclosed number of child prisoners, however failed to reach a consensus on a wider release for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.  

Although Yemen's internationally-recognised government criticised the Houthis' use of child soldiers, the Aden-based authority has also been accused of deploying child fighters. 

Human Rights Watch said earlier this month that both sides in Yemen's war are guilty of using child soldiers.

Yemen's war has severely endangered the lives of the country's children through blockades, which have caused disease and hunger.

Many have also been recruited into armed groups or killed in fighting or bombing.

The UN's annual report on 'war and children' released last week said that the Saudi-led military coalition was responsible for 510 child deaths - 60 percent of the total number - and 667 child injuries in Yemen over the past year.

This resulted in the coalition being placed on a blacklist of groups and states that violate children's rights in armed conflict by the United Nations - a decision that was later reversed after Riyadh complained.

Human rights groups said Saudi pressure and threats to cut funding to UN programmes forced the UN backtrack.