Recruitment and Use of Children

Fragile Bodies in the Heat of War

Monday, February 12, 2024
Recruitment and Use of Children

Mwatana for Human Rights, in a statement coinciding with the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, asserted that all parties to the conflict in Yemen have extensively recruited and used children in combat or other roles since the outbreak of war in Yemen in late 2014. According to Mwatana’s documentation spanning from 2014 to December 2023, a total of 1,238 incidents of child recruitment or use were recorded, comprising 1,184 incidents of male recruitment and 54 incidents of female recruitment. This violation involved all conflict parties, with 861 children (810 males and 51 females) recruited by the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group, 212 children (210 males and 2 females) recruited by the internationally recognized government forces, 127 children (126 males and 1 female) recruited by the Southern Transitional Council forces, 18 children recruited by the Joint Forces, and 20 children recruited by the Saudi/UAE-led coalition forces.

Radhya Al-Mutawakil, the Chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights, stated, "These alarming rates of child recruitment and use are a dark indicator for the future of children in Yemen. It is incumbent upon all conflicting parties to respect international conventions and laws, and to spare children the conflicts of adults." Al-Mutawakil emphasized the necessity of enhancing national and international measures aimed at preventing and criminalizing the recruitment and use of children by armed forces or groups in combat activities, as outlined in the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Protecting and caring for children is both an international and national responsibility.

One of the recruited children shared his experience with Mwatana, stating, "In September 2018, when I was 12 years old, I left school due to violence from teachers and started working with Ansar Allah as a supply officer. I would bring water, qat, and food on a motorcycle as their premises were near my home. I attended an educational [ideological] course in Al-Hayma Al-Khārijiyah district for a month and a half, then another course in Saada for seven months. After that, I was taken to the frontlines in Nihm district for a month, then to the Najran area in Saada governorate, where I got my first injury from a mortar shell. I sustained shrapnel wounds in my right eye, forehead, right shoulder, and hand. As a result, I lost my right eye, and a piece of shrapnel still remains in my forehead. Doctors said that removing the sharpnel from my forehead may result in losing the left eye."

He added, "After a short period following the first injury, I returned to the frontline in Serwah and was injured for the second time due to artillery shelling with mortar shells. I suffered shrapnel wounds causing fractures in my left thigh and amputation of my right leg from the knee down. I also sustained deep shrapnel wounds in my abdomen, my right shoulder, and my left arm." 

An eyewitness recounted, "On Tuesday, September 15, 2020, my nephew, a 14-year-old child, was recruited in Al-Jawf governorate to fight against the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group and tragically lost his life. He underwent combat training under the auspices of the 101st Infantry Brigade of the internationally recognized government forces. This training spanned approximately forty days at a camp in Al-Jawf. Following his training, the child was deployed to various frontlines to engage alongside government forces against the Houthis. Then, on Monday, June 20, 2022, tragedy struck when a landmine detonated as a military vehicle, carrying soldiers including my nephew, traversed a desert road. The explosion claimed the lives of everyone aboard the vehicle except my nephew, who sustained shrapnel injuries to the head and fractures in his back and right leg. He was promptly transported to Marib Hospital for urgent medical care and later transferred to 'Sharurah' Hospital in Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, he remained in a persistent coma for three agonizing months until his passing. My nephew was the sole male offspring in his family, and his untimely demise has left an irreplaceable void."

Recruitment of a Girl from Lahij Governorate

Mohammed Ahmed (pseudonym), a resident of Lahij Governorate, shares his story: "One day, a relative of mine who serves in the Security Belt Forces informed me of their urgent need for a female employee at a military checkpoint. Consequently, my wife and I made the decision to enlist her to work at the checkpoint, aiming to secure a monthly salary to sustain our livelihood. In early 2020, my wife informed me that the checkpoint officials required an additional female staff member to cover for her during potential absences. Our 14-year-old daughter, Sumaiya (pseudonym), was among the candidates that came to our mind, as she could work alongside her mother at the military checkpoint. We chose to enlist her after she discontinued her schooling, seeking an additional income source to support the family and settle our debts. It's not an ideal job for our daughter, and it's certainly not suitable for her age. She tirelessly works long hours, sometimes extending up to 12 hours a day, which places significant pressure and strain on her. However, circumstances of poverty and hardship have left us with no choice but to make this decision."

The father of the girl further explained, "Should schools reopen, I find myself unable to afford sending my daughter back to school and letting go of her current job. Our financial situation simply does not allow for such a choice, unless our circumstances improve significantly and I manage to secure an opportunity that can adequately cover my family's expenses."

Mwatana asserts that recruiting and using children under the age of eighteen as soldiers is prohibited under international humanitarian law, as well as international covensions and customs. It is defined as a war crime by the International Criminal Court. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits armed groups under any circumstance from recruiting or using individuals under the age of eighteen in military activities.

In accordance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding the involvement of children in armed conflict, it is imperative for State parties to undertake all feasible measures to prevent their members of armed forces under the age of 18 from directly participating in hostilities.

Drawing from evidence documented by Mwatana throughout the years of war, it is evident that worsening economic circumstances have emerged as a chief catalyst for the recruitment and use of children. Poverty compels certain families to subject their children to recruitment as soldiers, in a bid to secure an income that meets the bare necessities for survival. As of early 2024, the pace of child recruitment by warring parties continues unabated.

Mwatana for Human Rights urges all parties involved in the conflict to promptly halt the recruitment of children, release those currently detained, and ensure they receive comprehensive psychological and social rehabilitation to facilitate their successful reintegration into society. Additionally, Mwatana calls upon all pertinent authorities and international organizations to fulfill their responsibilities by actively preventing such violations and ensuring accountability for those responsible.