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Overview: The Endless Suffering of Children in Yemen

By: Khaled A. BaRahma

Who Are Child Soldiers?

Child Soldiers are children who are or have been members of an armed force or armed group in some capacity, which can include being recruited as fighters, porters, spies, or used sexually. Specifically, it doesn't only pertain to children taking part in hostilities directly or having done so in some way.


A major humanitarian crisis has resulted from the conflict in Yemen. The conflict has killed and injured thousands of Yemeni civilians. In 2015, Yemen Data Project reported that over 17,500 civilians have been killed in air raids, and women and children make up just over a quarter of civilian casualties. Yemen suffers from food insecurity and famine is a possibility for up to 15 million of its citizens.

Yemen has been under naval attack since September 2014 after Houthi forces, with the alliance of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, took over Sanaa in coalition with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These alliances have fractured over the past few years. As a result of clashes in December 2017, Houthi forces killed Saleh, who still controlled much of the north and center of the country. There are two Yemeni factions backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in southern Yemen: the Saudi-backed government led by President Hadi, and the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC).

As a result of October's conflict, the UAE carried out air strikes to support the STC forces, with Yemeni government forces clashing with STC forces. In many parts of the nation, the public face a lack of basic services, an economic collapse, abusive local security forces, and a system of governance, health care, education, and justice that does not work. Despite the conflict, the economy of Yemen has been badly affected. Many public servants have not received a regular salary in several years, and hundreds of thousands of families no longer have a stable source of income. Due to the nation's fragile economy, the humanitarian crisis has gotten worse.

Yemeni activists and journalists have been harassed, threatened, and attacked by coalition forces and Houthi forces. There have also been countless forms of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance by Houthi forces, government-affiliated forces, and Yemeni forces with UAE support. Houthi forces have seized hostages and took over entire estates.

Since March 2015, thousands of civilians have been killed when strikes by the coalition were indiscriminate as well as disproportionate, involving munitions sold by the United States, the United Kingdom, and others. In addition to using banned antipersonnel landmines, taking children as soldiers, and using artillery indiscriminately against civilians in Taizz, Yemeni forces have launched indiscriminate ballistic missiles toward Saudi Arabia.

Lawful Airstrikes?

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 90 airstrikes in Yemen have been conducted by the Saudi-led coalition in violation of the laws of war. These include deadly attacks on Yemeni fishing vessels that have killed dozens. Over 20,100 airstrikes have been conducted by the Saudi-led coalition on Yemen since the war began, or approximately 12 airstrikes a day, according to Yemen Data Project. In addition to hospitals, school buses, markets, mosques, farms, bridges, factories, and detention centers, bombs have destroyed bridges, factories, and businesses. More than 200 people have been killed and wounded as a result of air strikes by Saudi-led coalition aircraft on Houthi detention centers in August. According to the United Nations, this was the deadliest attack since the start of the war. Yemeni fishermen have been killed by Saudi-led coalition forces in at least five deadly attacks since 2018, including seven children, Human Rights Watch reported. In addition to the indiscriminate firing of artillery and missiles into Yemeni cities, including Taizz and Hodeida, Houthi forces have also launched rocket attacks against Saudi Arabia, including the Riyadh international airport. War crimes may be committed by some of these attacks.

The Armed Children Conflict

The UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen says Houthi forces have used child soldiers under 18 since September 2014. It was reported by the UN secretary-general that out of 3,034 children recruited during the Yemen war, (64 percent) were recruited by the Houthis.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres published his annual "list of shame" of violations against children during the armed conflict in July. Saudi-led coalition forces killed or injured 729 children, while Houthi forces killed 398 children, and Yemeni government forces killed 58 children. Even though the secretarygeneral listed the Saudi Arabia-led coalition as a party improving its behavior, the coalition was once again included in the list, despite significant evidence that coalition forces killed and injured children in 2018.

The Landmine

The ongoing destruction of civilian livelihoods and infrastructure across Yemen is caused by Houthi landmines. Yemen's western coast has been plagued by antipersonnel mines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and anti-vehicle mines used by Houthi forces, resulting in hundreds of civilian (especially children) deaths and injuries. As a consequence, aid workers have been unable to reach disadvantaged communities because of the landmines. The use of landmines in Yemen has been documented in six governorates since 2015. Among the 140 civilians killed by landmines since January 2018, 19 children were among the victims. Farmers and their crops are being adversely affected by landmines planted in their fields, villages, wells, and roads. Lack of coordination has led to misinformation, insufficient training, and a lack of compliance with International Mine Action Standards (IMAS).

A Brief History of Arbitrary Detentions

During recent years, Houthi forces have arbitrarily detained a multitude of people, including children, abused and mistreated detainees, and taken away and forcibly disappeared individuals perceived to be political opponents or security threats.

In the detention centers they controlled, Houthi forces practiced arbitrary detention, torture, including sexual violence, the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen found. According to investigative media and human rights campaigners' reports, the detainees included suspected Al Qaeda members and members of the Islamic State.

The Human Rights Watch documents dozens of cases of arbitrary and abusive detentions. Disappearances are also documented. In addition to violence against civilians, officials have also taken part in torture. Detainees reported abuse by Houthi officials, who shackled their arms behind them while they hung from the walls with iron rods and rifles. Families of abducted men have demonstrated in front of prisons in major Yemeni cities asking for the return of their sons, brothers, fathers, and other male members, forming a group called the "Mothers of Abductees Association”. At least 128 of the kidnapped have been murdered, according to the association, as there are 3,478 cases of disappearance.

The Key Actors

Yemen's government and Houthis achieved a ceasefire in coastal cities such as Hodeida, Salif, and Ras 'Issa as a result of UN-mediated peace talks in Sweden in December 2018. Other ground battles and new military fronts were not covered by the Stockholm Agreement. Support for the UN talks has also been consistently extended by the US, the United Kingdom, and other countries that support Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate militarily. Researchers from the UN Group of Eminent Experts and groups such as Human Rights Watch report that the UN Security Council has used sanctions regime only against one side, the Houthis.

Is the Civil Society safe?

To this day, Houthis continue to harass women, children, and the senior citizen in Yemen as fighters, porters, spies, or used sexually Among those who are harassed and prosecuted without legal justification are academics, students, politicians, journalists, and minority groups such as Baha'is faith. Yemen is not safe.



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