A new report by Amnesty International highlights the recruitment of child soldiers by Houthi forces in Yemen, and the violations of the rights of children by all parties to the conflict. The organization says that new evidence of recruiting tactics used by the Houthis has emerged, shedding light on how these young boys wind up on the front lines of Yemen’s war.
The recruitment methods are various, according to locals who have had sons or younger brothers taken by the armed group. Houthi representatives hold activities such as prayers or lectures at local centers and use these events as platforms to encourage both men and young boys to take up arms and defend Yemen from Saudi Arabia. Family members of one boy who was taken reported that many families’ inability to afford school played a role in increased Houthi recruitment of child soldiers in their area. In other places, locals say that Houthis have put recruitment quotas in place for local representatives, threatening them if the quotas are not filled. Families fear retaliation if they do not acquiesce to these demands as well, and are often promised money should their children be killed in the fighting.
"One family member whose 16-year-old brother was taken said about the boys who are recruited: ‘They’re just excited to shoot Kalashnikovs and guns and wear military uniforms. They [the Huthis] have been saying that there are so few fighters [at the front line], they are going around taking one [recruit] from each family. If the son dies at the front line, a monthly salary and a gun are given to the father to keep them quiet.’"
According to Amnesty International’s research, nearly 1500 children have been conscripted in this manner by all parties to the Yemen conflict in the last two years. Although the Houthi leadership has promised to end this practice, it continues today.
"In 2012 Huthi leader Abdel Malik al-Huthi met with the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, and pledged to work towards ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers. However, during its last six field missions to Huthi-controlled Yemen, between January 2015 and November 2016, Amnesty International has observed the use of armed children at checkpoints. Some were carrying books in one hand and a Kalashnikov in the other."
The Houthi forces are not the only group found to be in violation of children's’ rights during the civil war. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), various pro-government militias and divisions of the Yemeni armed forces, and the Saudi-led coalition have also been listed as actors that had violated the rights of children in conflict by the United Nations. Notably, Saudi Arabia was removed from the UN list after putting diplomatic pressure on former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. However, the fact remains that the Arab coalition forces have been responsible for 60% of the children killed or injured since the start of the war in March 2015, and have conducted airstrikes against schools and used internationally banned cluster bombs that have killed or injured a number of children. All parties to the conflict must be held responsible for their violations against the rights of children, and should immediately prioritize putting a stop to practices that will further endanger children’s lives and wellbeing.