Yemeni children.. Young warriors on the battle lines | Policy
private- A Kalashnikov dangled on the knee of Ali Saif, 14, as he crossed a narrow alley in exhausted and dirty clothes with dried mud on his way to his home in the Mathbah neighborhood, west of the capital Sana’a, after returning from one of the combat missions in the governorate of Al -Jawf 2019.
Ali was one of the Houthi fighters who joined the group after years of consolidating control over the capital Sana’a and was heavily involved in fighting forces loyal to the Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition forces that intervened militarily in 2015 to end the Houthi coup. and restore the government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power.
Before that, the boy’s behavior changed greatly after he joined the Houthis and became a source of danger for family members. As he jumped to use his weapon – which always accompanies him – to turn towards anyone who might oppose the group, even if he was a member of his family.
His older brother Muhammad told Al-Jazeera Net: “We lost Ali when he joined the Houthis in his last year and his character and behavior began to change and he often woke up with nightmares and was no longer a child as he was, more of a monster.”
Ali died fighting in Al-Jawf governorate the same year after returning home, and was among 3,995 Yemeni children recruited by warring parties over the past eight years, according to a United Nations report. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Young fighters at the front
Military commanders and military princes push children towards the direct battle lines, and they are often killed or wounded. Talib Ali, a former fighter in the government forces, said child soldiers are more enthusiastic about charging into battle lines as a result of their military mobilization.
He added to Al-Jazeera Net, “In one of the battles, two Houthi children were completely surrounded, and when we asked them to surrender, they refused for a long time, and when we approached them, they opened fire on us.. That they adult rookies, they would have surrendered immediately and would not have risked it.”
A United Nations report accuses all parties of involvement in child recruitment, but the Houthi group appears to be the party most mobilizing them, with the walls of the capital Sana’a, controlled by the group, turned into a living display of images of their dead, including children .
A UN expert report – submitted to the UN Security Council and published last January – said it had a list of 1,406 children between the ages of 10 and 17 recruited by the Houthis who died in the war in 2020.
Talib Ali says child recruits are considered good for tasks related to guarding security checkpoints and military locations, conducting security patrols, fetching water and transporting food, weapons and supplies to military locations.
Game of death
Children remain the weakest link in the circle of victims, because shelling of civilian objects ends in their deaths and injuries, and explosive devices and mine-explosive devices left over from the battles represent a great danger for them. They think it’s a game before it blows up in their faces.
And last Thursday, a child, Saeed Muhammad Abu Asha, was killed and another injured in a landmine explosion in Ma’rib province, in the east of the country, according to the Yemeni Landmine Monitor, a non-governmental Yemeni government organization that monitors these incidents.
A report by the Yemen Network for Rights and Freedoms (government), released last Monday, said Houthi landmines killed 3,673 civilians, including 647 children, and wounded 3,135 civilians, including 741 children.
According to UNICEF statistics, more than 11,000 children have been killed and injured since 2015. After a visit to Yemen, the organization’s executive director, Kathryn Russell, said, also last Monday, “For children, life has become a struggle for survival; thousands have lost their lives and it still happens.” Hundreds of thousands more are at risk of death.”
Psychological trauma and interrupted education
The war and the worsening humanitarian situation have left deep scars on children’s mental health and education, as ongoing conflict and wage cuts have forced parents to stop sending their children to school.
A children’s rights activist in the capital Sana’a – who asked not to be named for security reasons – said many parents have stopped sending their children to school because of poverty, and the emptiness and psychological trauma affects students and the spread of behaviors that reflect a psychological condition, like nail biting and absenteeism.
“Children often talk about nightmares that are a consequence of the horrors of war; one of the children had a constant dream of severed heads falling from the sky, and 6 years ago that child and his family were near the explosion of a weapons warehouse east of Sana’a. ‘a”, she added.
The Director of Camps in the Executive Unit for IDPs in Marib Governorate (Government), Khaled Al-Shajni, says that 45% of IDPs are children and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and most of them have been displaced more than 6 times and have not received any psychological support.
Al-Shajani added – to Al-Jazeera Net – that “humanitarian interventions in this aspect are very limited, and are limited to a few activities carried out by organizations on special occasions, such as International Children’s Day, and society is indifferent to the mental state children’s health.”
According to a report by Children of War (Dutch Humanitarian), psychological trauma resulting from war can have lasting effects on children’s brain development, early learning abilities, poor academic performance and result in attachment problems.
Early marriage and sexual exploitation
An activist for children says that parents kicked girls out of school and prioritized the education of boys, because they believe that educating a girl is a losing investment, because she will soon get married, and the boy will help his parents in the future to face life. circumstances.
She narrates that a father in the province of Amran (north of the capital, Sana’a) paid off his debt after giving his two daughters to a man who had lent him money, one of them at the age of 8 to marry her when she reached puberty, and the other at the age of 4 to raise her.
Early marriage is more widespread in displaced communities, as displaced families tend to abandon their members after being unable to provide for them, including young girls who are forced into early marriage, and young girls marry to protect their reputation because fear of rape.
Abdu Marouf, a displaced person from Al-Hodeidah province in Taiz, says the lack of accommodation has forced the displaced to crowd into confined spaces, with sometimes 15 people forced to live in two rooms without any privacy.
He added to Al-Jazeera Net: “During the day, children are forced out of the house to make room for those who cannot leave the house, such as women or patients, and on the street you find them living in voids, not knowing what to do .”
According to human rights reports, the situation of children has made them vulnerable to rape and sexual exploitation, in addition to child labor and their exploitation in promoting smuggling.
Al-Shajni said children accompany their parents or elders to work in difficult conditions, while others work fetching water, including girls, and some of them stay in the camp to look after their siblings while their parents are away.