As Yemen's war drags on, the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) have ramped up their recruitment of child soldiers, in clear violation of Yemeni law and international conventions protecting the rights of children, rights groups say.
According to UNICEF, children with the Houthis and other armed groups comprise up to a third of all fighters in Yemen.
"The Houthi armed group in Yemen has intensified its recruitment, training, and deployment of children in violation of international law," Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a June 2016 report.
Since September 2014, when the Houthis seized control of Sanaa, "they have increasingly used children as scouts, guards, runners and fighters, with some children being wounded and killed", the report said.
Child recruitment efforts have been aided by the prevailing poverty in Yemen, which has been exacerbated by the ongoing conflict, the report said.
Children are offered between 1,000 and 2,000 Yemeni riyals ($4 and $8) per day to join armed groups fighting in Yemen, HRW said, adding that "in some cases children are not paid but given food and qat".
Tasks performed by child soldiers include fighting, carrying ammunition to the front line, and retrieving the bodies of fighters killed in battle, seven boys who volunteered for the Houthis told HRW in March 2014.
More recently, HRW said it had observed the Houthis using children as uniformed soldiers and at checkpoints.
"As fighting rages in Yemen, the Houthis have ramped up their recruitment of children," said Fred Abrahams, special adviser to HRW, in May 2015. "Commanders from the Houthis and other armed groups should stop using children or risk prosecution for war crimes."
Dangerous times for children
During an August 2, 2016 UN Security Council debate on children's rights violations during armed conflicts, Yemen's permanent representative to the UN, Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany, said the past 18 months had represented the worst period in Yemen's modern history.
Hundreds of children had lost their lives, he said, and schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure had been targeted.
The Houthis sent militia leaders to schools to recruit children for combat, he said, noting that children represented the largest number of Houthi recruits.
In a month period between late March and late April 2015 alone, UNICEF said, armed groups fighting in Yemen recruited at least 140 children.
"Since the outbreak of the conflict in March 2015, the UN has documented the death of about 1,400 children and wounding of more than 2,140," UNICEF Representative in Yemen Meritxell Relano said in January.
She called on all parties to protect children and halt attacks on civilian infrastructure, including schools and educational facilities.
On January 4th, Al-Arabiya reported that " Houthi militias forcefully recruited more than 450 children from al-Mahwit governorate west of Sanaa, in December, and sent them to war fronts".
Some of these recruits were under the age of 13, local sources said.
Training camps for child soldiers
The Houthis have opened camps in al-Mahwit, where they are training hundreds of children, and have established similar camps in Amran, tribal sources said.
These children are being misled by the promise of weapons or abducted by force from their parents, and dozens have been returned to their families in coffins.
"The immense attrition of Houthi fighters at the fronts has caused them to turn heavily to the recruitment of children," said Asnad Centre for Strengthening the Rule of Law director Faisal Hazza al-Majidi.
Children between the ages of 10 and 17 have been spotted in militias at the battlefronts or stationed in cities and at checkpoints, he told Al-Mashareq.
The Houthis have been "conducting visits to schools in search of students to fight under the banner of the ‘resistance’," al-Majidi said.
Teenage boys are particularly vulnerable to recruitment, he said, as their character is not yet fully formed and many are eager to prove their manhood.
Recruiters prey on the emotions of children and their parents by leveraging their "difficult financial situations and desire to receive a salary and obtain an automatic weapon", he added.
Al-Majidi said he has learned that the Houthis give some fighters, "including children, stimulant drugs to help them remain steadfast".
Grim fate for child soldiers
Yemen is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, "which prohibits the involvement of children under 18 years of age [in war]", he said.
"The recruitment of children is a problem in many places of the world suffering from war, and not exclusive to Yemen. The root causes are similar everywhere," media professional Musa al-Nimrani told Al-Mashareq.
Wars lead to a lack of job opportunities and to the deterioration of the education system, he said, creating a void for school age children that coincides with a need by the parties to the war for fighters.
Child soldiers recruited by the Houthis "ultimately end up dead or captured", he said.
The recruitment of children is destroying childhood in Yemen and ultimately young people on whom nations are built, political affairs researcher Adnan al-Humairi told Al-Mashareq.
"Ansarallah movement ranks first and foremost in Yemen in terms of recruiting children, particularly the 13 to 18 age group," he said.