Society

Houthi summer camps darken children's future: officials

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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The Houthis 'Minister of Education', Yahya al-Houthi, who is the brother of Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi, sits in the front row at a summer camp in Sanaa. [Photo courtesy of Ali al-Bukhaiti's Twitter page]

While children typically attend summer camps to take part in sports, crafts and other activities, camps in parts of Yemen controlled by the Houthis (Ansarallah) have been used to recruit and indoctrinate children and train them to fight.

This is in sharp contrast with their intended purpose, and poses both a danger to the children and a threat to society, officials and observers told Al-Mashareq.

While some summer camps in Houthi-controlled areas are open to all children, others are only open to boys who are capable of bearing arms, Yemeni Information Minister Muammar al-Eryani said in a report carried by local media.

He warned of the dangers of these so-called "summer camps", saying the boys who attend them are brainwashed, indoctrinated with extremist ideology and trained on the use of all types of weapons by the Iran-backed group.

Families in Sanaa, Hajja, Saada, al-Jawf and Mahweet are particularly vulnerable to recruitment, he said, as illiteracy rates are high in these areas and many residents are facing difficult financial circumstances.

'A very serious matter'

The Houthis’ establishment of summer camps that deviate from their intended purpose is a "very serious matter that will have dire consequences for Yemen’s future", Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul-Hafeez told Al-Mashareq.

There are 3,672 summer centres in Houthi-controlled areas, he said, with about 250,000 boys and girls attending them during the school break.

"The Houthis were very clear from the first day of the coup that they intend to control education with their appointment of Yahya al-Houthi, brother of Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi, as Minister of Education," he said.

They are disseminating their own ideology in these camps and thus "preparing new numbers for their sectarian project that serves no interest but that of Iran", Abdul-Hafeez said.

"The most serious problem is that the Houthis remain [in power] and control the most densely populated areas in Yemen," said Nadia Abdullah, deputy minister of the women's sector at the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

After the Houthis seized control of Sanaa, they continued their ideological indoctrination, especially in schools and summer camps, she told Al-Mashareq.

'Indoctrinating the masses'

This is in addition to "holding ideological-cultural courses for the public at large to instill their sectarian ideology in everyone", Abdullah said, adding that this has prolonged the war by indoctrinating and mobilising the masses.

After the Houthis lost scores of their fighters on the battlefronts, the militia turned to children as they are easily recruited, indoctrinated and turned into fighters, said lawyer and human rights activist Abdul Rahman Barman.

"The Yemeni government has a duty to inform citizens about the danger of these summer camps via radio broadcasts directed at Houthi-controlled areas," he told Al-Mashareq, noting that this is the most effective way to reach people.

Power outages and poor internet access have forced citizens in both rural areas and cities to turn to radio as a source of news and information, he said.

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