Iranian-backed Houthis in hunger-stricken Yemen recruited an estimated 50,000 children in the past three months, including orphans and girls, to fight in the country’s bloody conflict, the information minister for the country’s internationally-recognized government reportedly declared this week.
“Most of the kids go with the consent of their family, some are kidnapped … some are brainwashed,” Yemen’s Information Minister Moammar Al-Eryani told reporters in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, the Defense Post reported Thursday, conceding that it was unable to verify the 50,000 figure independently.
The news outlet added:
Houthis often give child fighters qat (also spelled khat) – a commonly-used plant that contains the stimulant alkaloid cathinone – to keep them awake at the frontlines, the minister said, while a kids’ magazine about jihad helps with indoctrination.
Eryani reportedly indicated that ten percent of the recruits are girls, adding that “many children have been recruited to the rebel cause from orphanages.”
The Defense Post further noted:
During the roundtable on Tuesday, Al-Eryani showed journalists what he said were photographs of children armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers deployed at checkpoints and participating in military drills.
Al-Eryani also shared a picture of a letter that he said showed a Houthi commander’s request that a school give a student top marks for his exams because he was fighting, and said in some cases, families have been forced to celebrate their child’s martyrdom after receiving the news of their death.
Yemen primarily relies on imports for the vast majority of its food and supplies.
In addition to the deteriorating security conditions, the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition have directly blocked food and other aid supplies from entering the country.
Since March 2015, a Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE)-led Sunni coalition has been fighting the Houthis to restore the internationally-recognized government of Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.
New data unveiled by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) this week revealed that the war had killed an estimated 91,600 people, noting that 2018 “is the war’s deadliest and most violent year on record.”
Citing the aid group Save the Children, the New York Times reported in November 2018 that at least an estimated 85,000 children have succumbed to hunger in Yemen since 2015.
“The conflict is getting worse, not better. Fighting this year has displaced more than 250,000 people,” Mark Lowcock, the under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator at the U.N., said this week.
“The number of incidents killing or injuring children more than tripled between the last quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of this year,” he added.
In August, U.N. investigators accused the government of Yemen, the Saudi coalition-backed troops, and the Houthi terrorists of conscripting or enlisting children into the armed groups involved in the war.
“In most cases, the children were between 11 and 17 years old, but there have been consistent reports of the recruitment or use of children as young as eight years old,” the investigators said.
Denying the allegations against the Yemeni government, Eryani noted that Yemeni law and institutions prohibit child recruitment.
“Always, the military police are doing some kind of inspection to make sure that there are no kids recruited,” the minister argued. “The government will not and cannot allow child soldiers.”
Citing people familiar with the matter, Reuters reported on Tuesday that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo kept Saudi Arabia off a U.S. list of nations that recruit child soldiers, overruling his experts’ findings that the Sunni Kingdom-led coalition has been using underage fighters in Yemen.
“The allegations of recruiting child soldiers are completely incorrect and are not based on any evidence or factual findings,” Col. Turki al-Malki, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, declared recently.
He went on to accuse the Sunni coalitions’ enemies of using child soldiers. Despite the dire conditions in Yemen, the war appears far from over.