Children pay price of war in Houthi-controlled areas

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

A Yemeni artist works on a mural as part of a campaign to end the recruitment of child soldiers by tribal militias on April 10th, 2014 in Sanaa. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

A Yemeni artist works on a mural as part of a campaign to end the recruitment of child soldiers by tribal militias on April 10th, 2014 in Sanaa. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

In parts of Yemen controlled by the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah), children are paying a heavy price for the ongoing war, officials and observers said.

The militia has subverted the education system in these areas, they said, transforming schools into military barracks or recruitment centres.

It has been steadily eroding educational standards by replacing qualified teachers with party loyalists and turning schools into ideological incubators with the aim of luring children to the fronts and using them as cannon fodder.

In Ibb province alone, according to local media reports, the militia has dismissed more than 2,000 teachers in the last two years.

Al-Arabiya TV reported that the Houthi-controlled Education Office in Ibb has dismissed 788 teachers in various districts so far this month.

Meanwhile, state employees in Houthi-controlled areas, including teachers, have not been paid their salaries for over three years, and are experiencing very difficult financial circumstances.

Child recruitment

"Reports issued by international organisations indicate there have been 30,000 cases of child recruitment in Houthi-controlled areas," lawyer and human rights activist Abdul Rahman Barman told Al-Mashareq.

"This figure is correct," he said.

But "the number of teachers who have been targeted exceeds the number of those who have been dropped from the payroll and replaced by loyalists", Barman noted.

The Houthis have killed 450 teachers in the areas under their control, he said, while around 1,500 teachers have been detained in the militia's jails.

The Houthis set out to gain control of Yemen's education system in order to use it for their own purposes and further the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist), which calls for allegiance to Iran's Supreme Leader.

Through it they have sought to gain control of the minds of children, he said, pointing out that the militia views schools as incubators for new fighters, but can only recruit, train and indoctrinate children if the teachers are loyal to them.

Barman said the Houthis seek to have exclusive control over public sector jobs, and have dismissed employees in all sectors, particularly the education sector.

The Houthis' recruitment of child soldiers is evident "at checkpoints, where child soldiers can be seen manning them, and also in the photos of killed Houthi soldiers in the streets, the majority of whom are children", he said.

Changing the curricula

"The Houthis set out to destroy the educational system by changing the curricula to bring it in line with their doctrinal and sectarian orientation," political researcher Nabil al-Bakiri told Al-Mashareq.

They sought to control the appointment of principals and teachers, and to mandate educational activities that propagate the group's ideology, he said, employing all these means to establish a doctrinal educational model.

Through this, he added, the Houthis seek to shape the thinking of children and encourage them to be loyal to the militia and uphold its ideology.

Beyond regular school hours, the Houthis have attempted to use summer camps and educational offerings for their own purposes, he said.

Traditional summer camps have been transformed into "doctrinal camps, where these children are trained on the use of weapons and fighting", al-Bakiri said, with the eventual goal of sending them to the battlefronts.

The serious consequences of child recruitment include "the emergence of a generation of children imbued with the militia's ideology", he said, which will rend Yemen's social fabric and undermine peaceful co-existence.

Destroying young lives

"After staging a coup against the state, the Houthis began to exert their control over education by dismissing teachers and replacing them with people loyal to them who would serve their ideological goals," Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez told Al-Mashareq.

They also sought to divert financial support they received for education for their own purposes, he said, accusing them of "stealing the teachers' livelihoods, starving them and diverting that money to their loyalists".

"This behaviour reflects the militia's exclusivist ideology that shuns all who do not join them, and violates the principles of civil service and rules of public employment," Abdul Hafeez added.

The Ministry of Human Rights has been monitoring cases of child recruitment "which took children from schools to the frontlines and used them as fuel for their absurd war against the legitimate government and their country", he said.

This move amounts to "destroying their childhood, their future, and the future of Yemen", he added.

Through its actions, he said, the militia is "systematically destroying childhood in Yemen and is violating international norms, the International Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Yemeni law on the rights of the child".

"In their dictionary, 'school' has come to stand for training camps, weapon depots, and sometimes military commanders' meetings," Abdul Hafeez said.

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