Recruitment and Use of Child Solders in Armed Conflict in Yemen in April 2013 - December 2018

Publish Date
July 7, 2020
Pages Count
Press Release

Executive Summary

Mwatana for Human Rights conducted a study on child recruitment and the use of child soldiers in the armed conflict in Yemen. The study is the first of its kind devoted to the phenomena of child recruitment, examining its causes, mechanisms, direct effects and possible future directions. The study was based on information collected by a trained team of Mwatana field research assistants. The study used systematic, individual interviews as the data collection tool. The study sample consists of 50 interviews with recruited children, and 45 interviews with guardians of recruited children.

To gain additional indicators on the possible future outlook of the phenomenon, Mwatana also conducted fact-finding interviews with 90 children who had not been recruited and guardians of children who had not been recruited but who live in an active recruiting environment.

Moreover, interviews were conducted with three people involved in child recruitment in order to gain a better understanding of recruitment mechanisms.

The study covered 19 governorates in Yemen: Sanaa (the city), Sanaa governorate, Amran, Sa’adah, Dhamar, Hajjah, Al-Mahweet, Raimah, Al-Jawf, Hodeidah, Taiz, Aden, Ibb, Lahj, Abyan, Marib, Shabwah, Al-Baidha and Hadramout. The sample cases were selected from these governorates taking into account the characteristics of

child recruitment, its dimensions and to ensure that the cases included all the parties involved in child recruitment, namely: Ansar Allah (the Houthi armed group), the Yemeni army forces affiliated with the internationally recognized government, forces loyal to the internationally recognized government, forces affiliated with the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council, the Joint Forces lead by Tariq Saleh (the nephew of the former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh), Yemeni army brigades

affiliated with the Saudi/UAE-led coalition stationed in the southern Saudi borders, and Ansar Al-Sharia.

Section I

Legal Framework Prohibiting the Use and Recruitment of Child Soldiers in Armed Conflicts This section provides an overview of the international and Yemeni legal frameworks prohibiting child recruitment and use in armed conflicts. The section looks at the Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC), Additional Protocols I and II of the Geneva Conventions, the Optional Protocol of the CRC and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which regards recruitment of children under 15 a war crime. As far as Yemeni law is concerned, Act 45 on the Rights of Children, issued in 2002, strictly bans recruiting children under the age of 18 or engaging them directly

in war. The present study discusses some gaps that exist in Yemeni law, particularly given the current rules do not cover various other aspects of child recruitment and

use, including indirect engagement of children in hostilities, fails to establish mechanisms to prohibit recruitment of children, nor ensure accountability for

violations and processes for rehabilitation and reintegration.

Section II

Causes of Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers in the Armed Conflict in Yemen Economic conditions are a major cause of child recruitment in the armed conflict in Yemen. Poverty often compels Yemeni families, some allowing their children to participate in the conflict to provide their minimum, necessary survival needs and others allowing their children to be recruited in order to increase the family’s utterly limited income. There are also some cases where children join the army themselves because they feel the hardship of living under poverty and they find their families unable to provide their personal needs. Economic reasons account for 40.7% of the causes for child recruitment based on the study sample.

Social reasons (which account for 37.8%) play an important role in driving child recruitment. Yemen is considered a low-educated country with widespread illiteracy.

Influence and social pressure, based on widespread social norms that normalize and further child recruitment, also drive many children to join military units of different

parties to the conflict. For example, there exist social norms which advocate that children be viewed as capable to take responsibility, including to carry arms and fight. Political and ideological reasons, on the other hand, accounted for 14.1% of the interviewees’ cited causes of child recruitment. These included ideological allegiance

to the recruiting party, as well as political and ideological affiliation and or support to a particular political issue. The desire to carry and use weapons and to imitate adults who participate in the war in some environments was found to be the least significant

cause, only cited by 7.4% of the sample.

Although these reasons vary in terms of importance, they all play an influential role. It would be difficult to ascribe the phenomenon of child recruitment to one single

cause—in many cases, multiple causes, or push factors, were at play. For example, not all poor families allow or encourage their children to fight. In other words, if the

poverty factor does not combine with another factor, for example, social pressure through the influence of relatives and friends, it may not necessarily lead to child

recruitment. The co-occurrence of both economic and social push factors was seen in a large percentage of children recruited who cited economic reasons.

Likewise, causes for child recruitment vary by different warring parties. Economic reasons, for instance, played a less important role in recruiting children into Ansar

Allah (Houthi) forces than social reasons and the reverse for the national army affiliated with the internationally recognized government, the forces loyal to the government, the UAE-backed forces of the Southern Transitional Council, the forces affiliated with the Saudi/UAE-led coalition and the forces of Tariq Saleh. One potential explanation for this is that economic expectations—in terms of pay and other material benefits—from both the child and his family when recruited by Ansar Allah (Houthi) forces are relatively less than those for other forces. For this reason, the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group depends on its social influence as well as ideological and political factors more than other recruiting parties, with the exception of Ansar Al-Sharia, whose child recruits are mainly influenced by ideological factors.

Section III

Patterns and Mechanisms of Child Recruitment

Compulsory child recruitment (i.e. recruiting by force) accounted for 55.8% of the sample and can be regarded as the prevailing pattern of child recruitment. This includes recruiting children while threatening the family, abducting children and recruiting them without their family’s consent. Voluntary recruitment (i.e. with

family authorization) accounted for 44.2% of the sample cases, a relatively high percentage compared to compulsory recruitment. “Voluntary” recruitment does,

however, include instances where families felt compelled to allow their children to be recruited due to deteriorating economic conditions, social influence or ideological

mobilization. Children are not often mobilized for recruitment individually. 80% of the sample of the present study were recruited collectively. In other words, recruitment

was carried out through collective mobilization in small and large groups, suggesting how important social influence of other children is in this phenomenon.

The parties to the conflict assigned people from different social groups to recruit children and to make it more attractive to them, such as mobilizing supervisors,

children’s relatives and friends and, to lesser degree, parents and brothers. Different parties followed different mechanisms to recruit children. Ansar Allah (Houthi armed

group) promoted the idea of ‘Jihad’ to influence children, whereas the army of the internationally recognized government and other forces often recruited children by offering financial benefits.

Section IV

Conflict and Recruitment Dynamics

Child recruitment has taken an upward trend in the conflict, i.e. recruitment increases as the conflict continues. Children play an important role in fighting and providing

security for the warring parties. A large percentage of children have been killed (31.6%) from the overall sample of those recruited, demonstrating there is a high level of reliance upon children for fighting and security tasks. This in turn indicates at least part of the reason why parties to the conflict continue recruiting child soldiers – their participation is viewed as considerably important to all parties.

There is an ongoing debate on the phenomenon of child recruitment in Yemeni society. There are some conflicting trends related to this phenomenon during the continuing conflict. Despite the fact that child recruitment has a tendency to rise, 11.6% of families which agreed to have their children recruited changed their position

and had their children return back to the family. These families took their children back for several reasons, including fear for their children’s lives (especially as fighting

escalated) and improvements in household income. 17.19% of the recruited children left their units for different reasons which had nothing to do with pressures experienced by their families. People’s posture towards recruitment (such as after being exposed to bad recruiting practices) can change based on changes in social

position as well as the development of conflict dynamics. Moreover, economic intervention for families whose children have been recruited also appears able to reduce the magnitude of the phenomenon and impact its course in a positive way.

Section V

Violations against Recruited Children and Family’s Reactions

Child recruitment is considered a violation of national and international law. It also exposes children to other dangers and abuses, including death, injury, rape and sexual

violence. Recruited children have also been subjected to harsh conditions, had severe bodily injuries and been maltreated. The study shows that 68.4% of children recruited in the sample suffered from different dangers and abuses by parties to the conflict, including being killed during confrontations with the other party, abduction, rape and sexual violence.

The reactions of children’s families towards the dangers to which their children were exposed (specifically their deaths) were generally muted due to constraints that

neither offer opportunities for them to express their stance openly nor allow them to take legal action in the case of violations due to the absence of the rule of law in the

context of the conflict. The majority of families held recruiting parties responsible for dangers or abuses to which their children were exposed, while 30% of the families

blamed the party that directly caused the suffering of the recruited child (for example, the opposing party if the child was killed during fighting). This indicates that the social attitude is not determined by the accompanying violations to child recruitment.

Section VI

Direct Effects of Child Recruitment

There are many negative effects of recruiting child soldiers. Three major negative effects that came out of the study are highlighted. School dropout is one of the main

negative effects of this phenomenon. 90.5% of the recruited children were schoolboys prior to recruitment. These children have lost their education as they believe

that recruitment may provide them with future opportunities which they believe may not be attained by continuing their education, for example getting a permanent job in the military. Moreover, child recruitment results in changes in thought and behavior which impact children’s manner of thinking about the future on the one hand and

dealing with family and society, on the fother, for example, acquiring ideas from the recruiting party and attempting to take on new roles inconsistent with their age.

Another major negative effect of child recruitment is the expansion of carrying weapons in society. 69.5% of the recruited children did not carry weapons prior to recruitment. However, they now carry weapons, including in areas where arms proliferation was not common.

Section VII

Child Soldiers Recruitment – A Future Outlook

According to the study’s findings, the majority of recruited children are eager to leave their units in cases where living conditions improve. On the contrary, only 18.9% of

the recruited children expressed their interest to continue in their units. 15.1% of the recruited children answered “I do not know” when asked whether they would leave

their units. Given that the majority of recruited children wanted to leave units if living conditions have improved, the economic factor again appears an essential factor determining the evolution of the phenomenon. Thus, improvement in the economic sphere is likely to limit the expansion of the child recruitment phenomenon. However, achieving economic improvement that can be reflected in the whole population may not occur if the conflict continues. In other words, the positive impact of improved economic circumstances depends on ending the conflict. If the conflict does not stop, children are likely to continue being recruited, perhaps at increased rates, due to deteriorating living conditions.

Through assessing the likelihood of the expansion of child recruitment by conducting scoping interviews with non-recruited children living in an active recruiting environment, it was found that non-recruited children who expressed interest to be recruited accounted for 57.7% of these interviews, whereas those who did not express interest were 42.3%, some of whom opposed the idea of child recruitment more broadly. The majority of non-recruited children appeared strongly inclined to be

recruited and join fighting. They believed that recruitment was a way to get money and gain weapons, which some have been dreaming to attain. Moreover, exposure to recruitment efforts is high, with the result that families’ control of their children, especially those who are inclined to be recruited, has weakened. The study shows that exposure to recruitment amongst non-recruited children accounted for 53.8% of the sample. Likewise, 73.1% of the respondent parents revealed that they have concerns that their children may engage in recruitment in the future without their knowledge.