Yemen’s Houthis are still recruiting child soldiers to fight in the civil war despite a deal with the United Nations last April to stop the practice, Houthi officials, aid workers and residents told The Associated Press.
Two Houthi officials told The Associated Press that the Houthis have recruited several hundred children, including 10-year-olds, in the past two months and deployed them. in front line as part of a mobilization of forces during the UN-mediated truce that has been held since last April.
The two Houthi officials, whom the agency described as “uncompromising”, said they found no problems with the practice and argued that the 10- or 12-year-old boys were considered men.
One of them added: “They are not children. They are real men who should defend their nation,” as he said.
The two Houthi officials arranged for them to speak anonymously to avoid clashing with other Houthi leaders.
The Houthis used what they call “summer camps” to spread their religious ideology and recruit boys to fight. Such camps have been set up in schools and mosques in all areas under their control in Yemen, in particularly in the north and center of the country and in the capital, Sana’a.
According to UN experts, some 2,000 children recruited by the Houthis were killed on the battlefield between January 2020 and May 2021.
Last April, the Houthis signed what UNICEF called an “action plan” to end and prevent the practice.
For their part, four aid workers from three international organizations working in the Houthis-controlled areas said they noticed an intensification of the Houthis’ efforts to recruit children in recent weeks. The ranks of the Houthis had weakened due to losses on the battlefield, especially during the nearly two-year battle over the city of Ma’rib.
Aid workers spoke to the Associated Press in condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety. They explained that the Houthis have pressured families to send their children to fields where they learn to handle weapons and plant mines. in exchange of services including food rations from international organizations.
A working aid worker in remote Northern areas described seeing 10-year-old children guarding roadblocks with Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders. Others have been sent in front line and some injured children have returned from fighting in Marib, according to the worker.
In a related context, two Amran governorate residents said that Houthis representatives came to their homes in May and asked them to prepare their children for camps at the end of the school year. The residents, who are farmers, spoke in condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
They said their five children, aged 11 to 16, were brought in in late May in a training center in a nearby school. A father said he was told that if he didn’t send his children, his family would not receive food rations.
The UN group of experts said at the beginning of questyear that the Houthis have a system for indoctrinating child soldiers, including the use of humanitarian aid to put pressure on families. The children are first taken to the centers for a month or more of religious classes.
Experts also found that seven-year-olds learn to clean weapons and dodge missiles.
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