The forcible recruitment of children by the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) to fight in Yemen's protracted war is a flagrant violation of child rights, officials and activists told Al-Mashareq.
In a February 14th interview with Okaz newspaper, Yemeni Education Minister Abdullah Lamlas admonished the Houthis for forcing students in schools under their control to fight in the ranks of the militia.
The Houthis are doing this to compensate for their losses on the battlefronts, he said, adding that the militia's fighters take children out of classrooms and place them in military-style training camps.
The militia employs various tactics to recruit or coerce children to fight, "including mobilisation at mosques, schools and [displacement] camps through their delegates and families loyal to them", said political analyst Waddah al-Jalil.
Through these avenues, the Houthis seek to delude children into thinking they are defending the country, he told Al-Mashareq.
Other methods used by the Houthis "include the abduction of children from schools, streets and markets", he added, as well as forcing families, through threats of extortion, to send their children to fight.
"Families acquiesce out of fear of being subjected to brutal punishment by the Houthi militias," he said, citing a January incident in Hajjah province where a tribal elder was killed for refusing to hand over his son.
'Leading children to their death'
The forced recruitment of children to fight is a violation of international and local law and violates the rights of the child, particularly their right to life, education and safety, said lawyer and human rights activist Abdul Rahman Barman.
Recruiting children as fighters "means leading them to their death", he told Al-Mashareq, noting that most children who were sent to the battlefronts "have come back as corpses".
The streets of Sanaa and other cities controlled by the Houthis are plastered with the photos of underage fighters who have been killed in the war, he said.
"Child conscription in all its forms and manifestations is condemnable," writer and political analyst Khalid Nasser told Al-Mashareq.
Children who are thrust into the battles are in serious danger of death or severe psychological damage "because they are not fit to fight and have their pure souls sacrificed for authoritarian ends", he said.
"No examples are needed, as the cemeteries and walls of the city are covered with the photos of victimised children," he added.
Houthi leaders recently inaugurated a cemetery in Dhammar "as if they were inaugurating a strategic project", Nasser added.
Iran complicit in child recruitment
Sending children to fight in battles is a condemnable act, National Dialogue Conference participant Nadia Abdullah told Al-Mashareq.
"Having lost many of its fighters in the fighting, the Houthi militia is beginning to turn to child conscription by force of arms, and Iran supports this by supporting the Houthi militias," she said.
Others also point the finger at Iran, which Human Rights Watch in November accused of recruiting child soldiers to fight in Syria.
"Iran has extensive experience in child conscription," al-Jalil said, noting that the country used children during its war with Iraq in the 1980s, and has exported this practice to its affiliates, including Yemen's Houthis.
"All the [Houthis'] actions are carried out based on Iranian expertise and advice in all affairs, as the Houthis are the military, cultural and sectarian arm of the Iranian state in Yemen," Barman said.