Human Rights

Iran-backed Houthis increase recruitment of child soldiers

By Abu Bakr al-Yamani in Sanaa

Newly recruited Houthi fighters chant slogans from a military vehicle during a January 3rd gathering in Sanaa. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

Newly recruited Houthi fighters chant slogans from a military vehicle during a January 3rd gathering in Sanaa. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

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.

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24 Comment(s)

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In addition to this, the Houthis take the [gibberish] of those who don’t allow their sons to go to fight along them as hostages. They also threaten to take their mothers and sisters.


O, Allah, Lord of the World, protect Yemen and make it secure!


Allah protect Yemen!


Urgent! Urgent! Urgent! Al-Houthi’s field commander Abu Muttahir al-Saqqaf has been killed with four of his aides in an air strike by the Arab coalition in al-Boqa area, Saada.


A required comment: The Prophet didn't come with sects, but came with a religion called Islam. The Caliphs walked in the Prophet's footsteps, and the sects appeared after the Caliphs.


ِAll of this is because of poverty, poor education and unemployment.


They have to take control over al-Hodeidah. If they do, they will, Allah willing, control all the governorates.


Allah suffices us and He is the best disposer of affairs! I think that al-Houthis, al-Islah, the Congress and the attacking Al Saud should go to the desert to fight there and leave the people to rule themselves and manage their own affairs. By Allah, we no longer want anyone of them to govern us because they care only about themselves and have left the people starve to death. Yemenis are being taken away from their families by force to be sent to battlefields. Finally, their goal is to defend the country, but it’d be better to leave the country alone and this way, it will be just fine.


You’re traitors; you compromise your own honour. We will kneel and bow only to Allah alone. The son of Yemen.


The liberation of the coastal governorate of al-Hodeidah, Saada, Amran, and Sana’a from the pro-Iran Houthi militias and the militias of the ousted Affash al-Sanhati has been much delayed because of fear for and keenness on the lives of civilians. The criminals of al-Houthi and the criminals of the family of the ousted Affash are hiding among the people.


You deserve all thanks and appreciation for these efforts.


Military resolution is the solution. The legitimate forces will have victory. We're coming Sana!


When Iran’s militias and Sanhan militias controlled large areas and spaces, they divided these areas with al-Qaeda under a declared agreement. The great Arab Alliance led by Saudi Arabia, the Yemeni legitimate forces and the brave Yemeni resistance can take out all the militias of Iran, Sanhan, al-Qaeda and ISIL in a few months. However, their keenness on the people is delaying the liquidation of al-Houthis, al-Afafsha, al-Qaeda and ISIL.


Allah suffices us against them! What guilt have the children committed? Thanks for exposing them and revealing their plans and acts!


The collapse of Iran’s crazy boy and the collapse of Iran’s gangs in Yemen. Too many sacrifices from the people of Arab Yemen, South Yemen, the Arabian Peninsula and Arab Gulf to stop the march of Iranian colonisation which has extended its influence to Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, and has also controlled the Ibadi Sultanate of Oman. The great Arab Alliance forces, led by Saudi Arabia, have within hours from the completion of recapture of al-Makha city and port, carried out a major sealift and airlift operations in the port to clear the area of the gangs of Iran, Sanhan, al-Qaeda and ISIL.


The stoppage of war and establishment of peace depends on the handover of all weapons to the legitimate Yemeni forces and on the withdrawal from all provinces. The people will never accept the presence of armed militias affiliated to the Iranian regime. The people will never accept armed groups operating outside the law and legitimacy, such as al-Qaeda, ISIL and the gunmen of the ousted Affash. Al-Houthi family is affiliated to the Iranian regime, and they turned a number of schools in Dhammar, Ibb, al-Bayda, al-Mahwit and other provinces to military barracks after they lost many of the sites they had seized in 2015.


As long as there is a diabolic alliance between the followers of the charlatan, including Zionists, Magi, and greedy people, and as long as there is ignorance, the calamity will continue forever. We pray to Allah to deliver us from the evil of Iran, its followers, Saudi Arabia and its cohorts.


It is excellent!


Oh my! What a bunch of true supporters of human rights!!! Eventually, these children are going to be murdered by warplanes manufactured by these lovers of human rights with Saudi money and Israeli pilots. So, is it not better for them to first fight and then die???


May God's curse be upon the father of the liar!


Oh children of Adam; please be humans!


The only ultimate savior who can save the earth from such calamity is the Imam-e-Zaman.


Iran is a Muslim country. But they are not the kinds of Muslims you find in Saudi Arabia and ... who commit crimes. The sole purpose of such news is to ruin the general perception about Iran. Here, we live in peace and tranquility, and I am certain that Iran has nothing to do with this matter, since they highly value children.


It is a good article.