Yemeni Children: From Schools to War

Written by Basem Al Absi

Hundreds of children have been recruited in Yemen recently to battles fight and thrown them in armed conflict. Children have been used by militias and Islamic groups, especially Houthi group, as they have been exploiting the families’ difficult financial situation to attract children and feed them to the war fields in the name of enriching the troops. Houthi group used their authority to issue identity cards for these children and clear evidence has surfaced regarding these practices.

The recruitment of children is morally and legally unacceptable and is prohibited under international law. These children have been abducted from their families by the Ansar Allah group (Al-Houthi group) and al-Qaeda group under the look and heard of the human rights organizations, but we do not find any serious movement to denounce such violations.

Houthis kill the innocence of childhood and throw them to their wars in Yemen, where children become “economically efficient” substitute to adult fighters. Furthermore, they are the easiest in terms of being ideological influenced as they take advantage of their young age and their recklessness to push them to the fronts of battles while lacking any experience and skills of combat. So these militias are using children as a way to save money exploiting their dire need for financial help.

International reports revealed the growing phenomenon of child recruitment in Yemen, especially since the beginning of the protest movement and political crunch in the country since the Arab Spring. One report recorded the deaths of 159 children, as well as 363 others who were injured during the year 2011.

Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda members, "Ansar al-Sharia" keep convincing the children that if they die they will go to heaven immediately. These children have been deprived of education by those armed religious groups. Clearly, this recruitment has nothing to do with Islam and is not known in the history of Islam that the children participated in wars.

Many children have been kidnapped and beaten into submission, while others joined the Al-Houthi militant group fleeing from poverty, in order to protect their community, or out of a sense a desire for revenge. Unemployment, poverty, low social awareness, shutting down large number of schools and the declining standard of education are driving factors for the recruitment of children in Yemen. Houthi militia misleads children by pretending to take them to attend educational sessions or deceiving them that their duties would in civilian facilities, but instead they are transferred to the battlefront. Economic and living conditions of the poor drive a lot of families to seek job opportunities for their children even if it is at an early age, or ask them to carry arms as long as they do not have involvement within the armed religious groups as families will rarely accept or consent to that.

Children take a direct role in the fighting, where the role of children is not limited to wars only, but they are assigned to extra daunting like support where they often carry heavy loads including ammunition or injured soldiers and some of the children were used as scouts, messengers, cooks and to carry other routine duties.

Houthi militia join children to the lines of the coup rebel armies. In the other side, the armed groups like al-Qaeda training children to serve their goals, and their families sent them abomination often for a number of reasons may be the most prominent are want and need. Children get training and fighting and serving military leaders, starting from the clean-up work at the military headquarters, through the work of reconnaissance and transport news, reaching to the sexual services often.

Regardless who is the party behind arming children, intimidation or enticement them; such group do not take into consideration UN conventions (Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Geneva Conventions) and international protocols (Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which entered into force in 2002) nor treaties, which confirm to ensure that not involve children in hostilities, and take feasible measures to prevent such recruitment and use.

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) monitored frightening increase in the recruitment and use of children in Yemen in 2015 compared to previous years. The documented cases have reached from the beginning of last year 2015 until the beginning of December, 848 cases of children recruited, compared to 156 cases monitored in 2014 only. However, local estimates the situation to be darker and very little comparing to the reality as many numbers exceed this figures of the recruitment of children remains far from monitoring organizations and activists tools.

According to the latest United Nations reports in Yemen, there are nearly 1,300 schools that were destroyed by the war, while (3600) schools were closed before the end of the 2015 academic year. This is equivalent to 70% of the total schools in Yemen which resulted in depriving nearly 3 million children out of school and nearly 500 thousand students from further education because of the absurdity of war of Al-Houthi and Saleh-led militias.

UNICEF report entitled "Education Under Fire" indicates that the war in Yemen prompted thousands of children to abandon books and pencils and go to fight in the ranks of the parties to the conflict. UNICEF has included earlier time three Yemeni authorities, namely the Houthi group, armed forces " regular army "and the group" Ansar al-Sharia "linked to al-Qaeda and its stronghold province of Abyan, on the blacklist of the UNICEF organization that exploit and use of children in armed conflict in Yemen.

The problem of recruitment of children in Yemen reached the extent that requires the international civil community to face and stop these crimes on the most venerable. This problem has existed for a long time when the former President Saleh's regime forces used to recruit children and minors. Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi issued in late November 2012, a Republican decision to not to recruit children under 18 years in the army or security, but it seems this decision was never implemented.


Basem Al Absi is a Yemeni human rights researcher and Activist, freelance writer and involved with several human rights works. He is a PhD Candidate.

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