Nearly a third of fighters participating in Yemen’s armed conflict are children who are experiencing chronic malnutrition, a United Nations official told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
“We are seeing children in battle, at check-points and unfortunately among (those) killed and injured,” Julien Harneis, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative in Yemen, told AFP in Geneva.
About 30 percent of the armed groups in Yemen are minors, UNICEF staff and its partners estimated. That means minors make up nearly three out of every 10 fighters in Yemen.
“You can say that up to a third of fighters in the armed groups in Yemen are children,” Harneis explained.
“There are children dying in bombings in the north… and by very intense battles in Aden and Daleh. All of the parties to the conflict are to blame,” he told AFP.
Moreover, children in Yemen are suffering from malnutrition, levels of which are expected to soar.
“We are going to see a spike in malnutrition in coming weeks. Unfortunately, that is something we are sure of,” the UN official declared.
“Difficulties in accessing water, rising prices for supplies, the difficulty to move around the country… All of this combined with cuts in state-run services [means] we will again see … hikes in malnutrition,” he warned.
Yemen is considered the poorest country of the Middle East. The lack of access to food, which has been exacerbated by the conflict, could further plunge the country into catastrophic malnutrition levels, said the UNICEF representative.
In 2014, the chronic levels reached a staggering 48 percent, among the highest across the globe, he added.
“The conflict will also lead to a decline in the number of children attending school in a country where one million school-aged children were already not receiving an education,” said Harneis.
UNICEF will be sending medical supplies, drinking water, and hygiene products to the Yemeni capital Sanaa at a time when no planes carrying aid are flying into Yemen, according to Harneis.
The UNICEF official was in Geneva to inform diplomats of the situation he and his colleagues witnessed on the ground in Yemen “in the hope the states will use this information to reduce the impact of the conflict on children.”
Geneva houses the second-largest UN office after the organization’s headquarters in New York.
AFP notes that “in Yemen’s tribal culture, it is common for boys to take up arms at a young age — something that is having dire consequences amid the spiraling conflict.”
A Saudi-led Sunni coalition began launching airstrikes last month against Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels, primarily comprised of military units loyal to former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The Houthi-led armed groups have reportedly seized nearly half of Yemen’s 21 provinces and the capital Sanaa, home to the country’s government.
U.S.-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is recognized as Yemen’s leader by the international community, eventually fled to Saudi Arabia from the country’s southern city of Aden after the Houthis and their allies stormed the port city. Fierce fighting continues in Aden.
Even the armed children who are not in the front lines in Yemen are vulnerable, pointed out the UNICEF official.
UNICEF, in statement issued Monday, said that at least 74 children have been killed and 44 others maimed since March 26 when the Saudi-led coalition began launching airstrikes against suspected Houthi targets in Yemen.
The U.S. is providing intelligence and logistical support to the Saudi-led campaign.
Earlier this week, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Saudi Arabia that the U.S. had expedited arm shipments to the Saudi-led coalition and enhanced intelligence sharing with them.
The Obama administration has come under criticism for not taking action to evacuate U.S. citizens caught in the middle of the Yemen crisis while countries with less resources have been rescuing their citizens.
Follow Edwin Mora on Twitter: @EdwinMora83.