Military conscription into militias is prevalent across the world. While children bear a disproportionate burden from civil war, the problem facing the international community in combating it is challenging. This is now becoming more apparent in Yemen, which is in the midst of a civil war. Despite international law prohibiting the use of children under 15 years of age, more needs to be done to prevent children falling at the hands of militias across the world.
Yemen is one of the poorest countries in Middle East with high levels of lack of education, poverty, “endemic corruption and unemployment”. Such conditions have led the country to instability and eventual conflict. The vulnerability of children to militarization has not been precluded either and militias are recruiting children into war. The Yemeni government’s attempt to protect children from militarization has included signing “an action plan with the UN in May 2014, committing its national security forces to release all children, reintegrate them into their communities and prevent further recruitment” 2However, after the militias of al-Houthi and the former president, Ali Saleh, seized control of the capital Sana’a and the North Yemen in general in 2014, the situation became disastrous, particularly after the Houthi military coup on 21 September 2014.
Talking about the recruitment of the Yemeni children is like narrating a tragic story. I always ask myself, why the children are the victims of war in Yemen. It is a horrible scene to see children are killed daily in battles without the intervention of the international community. For instance, last month a Yemeni woman was killed during a tribal clash in al-Qafla, Amran province. This lady left three daughters. These innocent daughters are orphans now. Their father was killed in a tribal clash and their mother was killed in a tribal act of revenge. Another four-year-old child was killed in the district of al-Easimat, Amran, Yemen because of a tribal conflict. These are barely a handful of moderate reports on how Yemen’s conflict has affected children and hundreds have been killed in the current conflict.
In addition, most children in the war suffer from hunger, shortage of water and ill health and now at risk of famine. But a less reported tragedy is that Yemeni warmongers are living in peace with their families while destitute children are being held behind bars in the prisons of the militias.
Recruiting Children in Yemen
The recruitment of children into war is a large issue in Yemen today but is being denied by the warmongers and militias. The militias still recruit children and send them into battles, particularly teenagers who inevitably face death. “Teenagers [are] encouraged to join ‘jihad” without the families’ knowledge, creating shock once militias return their bodies telling them they died as martyrs. Those responsible for bringing these into the war must be brought to justice. It is a tragic sight when you see many parents cry because their sons were killed in absurd wars. It is also painful scenes when you see the fathers of children appeal the warring parties to stop recruiting children.
The recruitment of children under 15 by militias or any group or state to a conflict is a war crime “according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and customary international humanitarian law.” Moreover, “The prohibition on the use of children under 15 was reaffirmed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), which also defined a child for the first time as any person under the age of 18.” Most governments implement the norm but Yemeni militias ignore it.
Most international reports and human rights organizations have reported few numbers around the militarization of children in Yemen. “Nearly 1500 children have been recruited by Yemeni’s warring parties, mostly the Shiite Houthi rebels, since March 2015.” But, the fact is thousands of children are recruited without the knowledge of their parents. Kristine Beckerle, in her report “Dispatches: Yemen’s Children Victims of Shocking Violations,” emphasizes that “the conflict in Yemen has taken a devastating toll on the country’s children.”
Furthermore, many children have been forced to leave their schools because of a brutal clash. “Up to 1,600 schools can no longer be used because they were destroyed, damaged, being used to host displaced families or are occupied by the warring parties. Some 350,000 children are unable to continue their learning as a result, bringing to 2 million the total number of children out of school.” Some of these children left school to join rebel militias. Instead of giving children basic lessons about the alphabet, some of the Yemeni militias taught them how to plant landmines and know more about using Kalashnikovs than writing Arabic sentences. To see young boys between 13 and 16 hold handguns and carry Kalashnikovs is saddening. Children need to go to school, not battlefields. “They should be able to learn and enjoy school life”. All the warring parties must now implement their moral, religious, historical and political responsibilities towards children.
The Destitute Children face Starvation
The Houthi military coup has been plunged Yemen into a humanitarian crisis. Two years of fierce fighting have forced millions of Yemenis to flee their homes. “Countless numbers of families are now on the brink of starvation” UN said. The Yemeni children’s future becomes unknown. Child dies every 10 minutes. According to the UN children’s agency UNICEF, “more than 400,000 children are at risk of starvation in Yemen, with nearly 2.2 million in need of urgent care.” Millions Of the Yemeni children sleep hungry. It shocked us to see the movement of al-Houthi exempt 7,000 vehicles of customs and give them to its fighters, entourages and the members of its revolutionary committees. These cars cost the Yemeni people twenty one million dollars.
The warring parties should let children live like other children in the world. Let them play football, instead of teaching them how to use pistols and Kalashnikovs. Let them listen to music about love, agriculture and tradition. Let them recite the holy Quran, Yemeni anthem, poetry of al- Zubairi and al- Bardonie, instead of reciting hatred culture and sectarian ideology. Let us stand for our children, not against their dream for a beautiful tomorrow.
Yemen will not see stability, peace, democracy and security except when we remove traditional elites like sheikhs, tribal leaders and religious sects from power. Then, Yemeni children will see peace. Therefore, we should act together as one single world towards one single goal to protect our children and our generations from monstrous leaders, traditional war mongers and radical groups. The recruitment of children is a violation of children’s rights. The international community must denounce these criminal acts and impose more sanctions against the warring parties in Yemen.
Adel Doshela is a Yemeni researcher and freelance Writer. He has written many articles and research papers, currently writing his PhD in English Literature, School of Humanities and Literary Studies, BAMU University, India. Follow him in tweeter: @DoshelaAdel