War-affected children and child soldiers in Yemen are receiving help to reintegrate into society through a programme funded by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KS Relief).
The programme is being implemented by a local partner, the Wethaq Foundation for Civil Orientation, with oversight from KS Relief.
It aims to benefit child soldiers and children scarred by Yemen's war, as well as their parents and family members.
During its first and second phases, which lasted four months and ended on December 23rd, the project reached out to 80 boys in Mareb, al-Jawf, Taez and Amran provinces.
A new phase of the project will be implemented throughout 2018 and aims to extend services to children and families in Sanaa province, particularly girls, according to Wethaq.
Around 2,000 girls who have been affected by the war are expected to benefit from the initiative.
The project in its first two phases sought to rehabilitate child soldiers, regardless of background or political affiliation, and protect them from further malicious influence.
In addition to helping the children reintegrate into society, the project will include an analytical component that will provide recommendations on how to proactively thwart child soldier recruitment.
Yemeni rights activists who spoke with Al-Mashareq highlighted the importance of rehabilitation programmes for child soldiers, calling for such efforts to be expanded in order to serve the largest possible number of former child soldiers.
Child soldiers in Yemen's war
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.
Yet many children have been fighting in the country's ongoing war, with UNICEF estimating that child soldiers fighting in the ranks of the Houthis (Ansarallah) and other armed groups comprise up to a third of all fighters in Yemen.
Child soldier recruitment efforts have been aided by the prevailing poverty in Yemen, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a June 2016 report.
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.
Other children have served as uniformed soldiers or at checkpoints.
According to Minister of Human Rights Mohammed Askar, the Houthis have recruited more than 10,000 child soldiers.
Numerous other children have suffered as a result of the war, he said, adding that Wethaq aims to reach a larger number of children in 2018.
Physical and psychological suffering
"The project of rehabilitating child soldiers [and those] affected by the war is consistent with the requirements of the critical stage Yemen is going through," said Wethaq Foundation programme director Abdul-Rahman al-Qubati.
"The children have become targets in the conflict through their recruitment and dispatch to battlefronts [and have become] casualties of the war, both physically and psychologically," he told Al-Mashareq.
"The programme’s objective is to protect the children by sending them to school, integrating them into society and keeping them away from the atmosphere of violence," he added.
According to the rehabilitation project's guidelines, the goal is to psychologically and educationally rehabilitate child recruits and war-affected children in a manner that facilitates their reintegration into society.
This includes school re-enrollment, as many were forced to abandon their education, KS Relief said.
The road to social rehabilitation
The road to rehabilitation includes a series of psychological treatment sessions, along with educational and awareness-raising sessions and activities for both children and parents.
These include rediscovering the children's latent talent through intensive skills development trainings and raising awareness among parents of recruitment tactics and child protection rights.
Families also will be provided with food rations, so they do not feel pressured to send their children out to earn money.
For the children, activities include mixing with peers through sporting events and field trips, and taking catch-up classes with specialised teachers so that re-entering school will not be so difficult.
Thousands more need help
The rehabilitation project "is an important activity and effort, but it needs considerable funding in order to implement it with more children who need rehabilitation", activist Musa al-Nimrani told Al-Mashareq.
Thousands of Yemeni children are in need of this type of intervention, he said, noting that "the need in the field is great".
"It is imperative to boost the programme’s financial resources to cover the growing needs, as child soldiers are estimated to be in the thousands and children affected by the war in the tens of thousands," he added.
While the effort to rehabilitate child soldiers recruited by the Houthis who surrendered to Yemeni forces is commendable, more must be done to help these children, said lawyer and human rights activist Abdel-Rahman Berman.
"These child soldier rehabilitation rounds were an effort made in some of the military zones in Aden and Marib, however they were not up to the required level due to the lack of international experts in this field," he told Al-Mashareq.