ADEN -- Officials and human rights activists in Yemen are demanding that Houthi chief Abdul Malik al-Houthi and other Houthi leaders be referred to the International Criminal Court for their involvement in the recruitment of children.
Some 640 children recruited by the Iran-backed Houthis to fight in their ranks were killed during the first six months of this year, according to an August 8 report by the Moyyun for Human Rights and Development (MHRD).
Al-Houthi topped a list of 125 Houthi militia leaders and officials accused of being involved in the recruitment of children, according to the report, titled "Children, not guns".
The MHRD called on the international community to refer the Houthi leaders for trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC) as war criminals.
The children killed were 13-17 years old, according to the report. All of them were given public funeral processions.
About 340 children recruited by the Houthis have been wounded, citing information obtained from hospitals in the capital and Houthi-controlled provinces and from the Care of the Wounded Foundation, the MHRD estimated.
The figures indicate "that children are being subjected to a horrific massacre in those provinces and Yemen in general", said the MHRD.
The provinces of Sanaa, Dhamar and Hajjah -- out of a total of 15 being monitored -- saw the most casualties, with about 333 children killed and 3,400 wounded, according to the report.
The organisation also revealed the names of 22 other parties involved in the recruitment of children in Houthi-controlled areas.
The Houthi group recruited children at cultural courses, schools and institutes, mosques, summer camps and orphanages and through kidnapping, according to the report.
The Houthis also granted military ranks ranging between colonel and second lieutenant to 155 children out of the total number of victims killed during the first six months of this year, it added.
The Houthis are forcing children to carry out tasks including engaging in direct combat, transporting supplies, gathering information, mine-laying, driving cars and motorcycles, building fortifications and trenches, escorting leaders and supervisors and manning checkpoints, according to the report.
The children are thus vulnerable to being killed or captured, or sustaining permanent disabilities, it said.
'In defence of the Iranian project'
Yemeni Minister of Information Muammar al-Eryani on August 9 announced the start of an online grassroots campaign, #children_not_guns, to pressure the Houthis to stop their human rights violations.
The recruitment of children is considered a war crime under the Geneva Convention, Deputy Minister of Justice Faisal al-Majeedi told Al-Mashareq.
The ICC in the past has convicted and handed down harsh sentences to militia leaders in Africa for child recruitment, because it is a war crime, he said.
"We are facing a real catastrophe that the world must stand against," al-Majeedi said.
The Houthis focus on creating annual summer camps to brainwash youths, he said, noting that the group announced that its camps have enrolled more than 620,000 students this summer.
The militia has committed a long list of violations related to childhood issues, foremost among them the issue of child recruitment, Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez said.
The Houthi militia, at its highest and mid levels, is deliberately violating children's rights, removing them from schools and putting their health at risk, he said.
The Houthis are brainwashing children at summer camps and in cultural courses to make them devoted to the Houthis' terrorist projects and dynastic ideology, he added.
Yemen's Ministry of Human Rights has recorded the recruitment of more than 30,000 children by the militia, "which confirms that it has clearly committed grave crimes against children", he said.
"That makes them wanted by the local judiciary, international law and the ICC as war criminals."
The MHRD report proves that the Houthis have used children "as a means to fight in defence of the Iranian project in Yemen", political analyst Mahmoud al-Taher said, referring to Tehran's efforts to expand influence in the region.
The Houthis exploited children to achieve their goals and Iran's interests in the region by indoctrinating children with terrorist ideas, kidnapping them and sending them to battlefields, he said.
It is a very serious report, and such independent human rights reports must be used to bring to account the parties to the war in Yemen and the crimes perpetrated against children, said al-Taher.