Human Rights

10,000 children killed or maimed in Yemen war marks 'shameful milestone'

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi

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Yemeni children stand outside a tent at a camp for internally displaced persons on the outskirts of Marib on October 29. [AFP]

ADEN -- Human rights activists in Yemen say the war that began seven years ago is affecting children the most -- both directly on the frontlines and indirectly through the negative consequences of the conflict.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), 10,000 Yemeni children have been killed or maimed since March 2015, when the Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened in support of the Yemen government after the Houthis' coup.

"The conflict in Yemen has reached a shameful milestone," UNICEF spokesman James Elder told a UN briefing in Geneva on October 21 after a visit to Yemen.

"We now have 10,000 children who have been either killed or maimed since March 2015, which is the equivalent of four children every day," he said.

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Displaced Yemeni children attend class in a dilapidated school building in the war-torn western province of al-Hodeidah on September 5. [Khaled Ziad/AFP]

Many incidents during which children die or get injured remain unrecorded, Elder said, noting that four out of five children -- some 11 million in total -- require humanitarian assistance in Yemen.

Meanwhile, about 400,000 suffer from severe malnutrition, and more than two million have dropped out of school, he said.

Suffering on the rise

Ending the suffering of the Yemeni people, especially children, means working "to bring about peace", political analyst Mahmoud al-Taher said.

After living amid the war for seven years, he added, "we see that the suffering is only increasing and the negative consequences are increasing".

He stressed the need for UN agencies, including UNICEF, to focus on peace and to put pressure on all parties to work towards achieving it.

Yemeni Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez told Al-Mashareq the number of killed or maimed children is much higher than figures show.

"The Houthi group has committed various violations related to childhood issues, and foremost among them is child recruitment, which forces families to send their children to fight for the Houthis," he said.

According to Yemen's deputy permanent representative to the UN, Marwan Noman, 2,000 children recruited by the Houthis have been killed during the Iran-backed group's war on Marib.

A meeting focused on protecting children and the victims of armed conflict was held on the sidelines of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in September.

One of the facts presented was that the Houthis have recruited more than 35,000 children since 2014, 17% of whom were under the age of 11 at the time of recruitment, and that 6,729 children are fighting on Houthi fronts.

Children as cannon fodder

"The Houthi coup has directly and adversely affected public services," said Yemeni Deputy Minister of Health Abdul-Raqeeb al-Haidari.

"Foremost among them is the health sector, which has collapsed and is operating at less than half capacity," he said.

This has exacerbated the spread of diseases, leaving the most vulnerable groups of society, primarily children, very vulnerable, he said.

The current situation in Yemen is tragic for children, who fall victim to shelling, missile attacks, land mine explosions and the deterioration of public services, he said.

They are also recruited as child soldiers and used as cannon fodder.

Yemen-based economist Fares al-Najjar said the UNICEF report is "a reflection of the economic crisis that the country is experiencing due to the war, which has created the worst humanitarian crisis known to humanity in the modern era".

"More than 21 million Yemenis are currently in need of humanitarian assistance," he said.

The number of underaged victims is growing steadily, he added, because the economic crisis is worsening, the national currency is in free fall and inflation is on the rise.

Al-Najjar said Yemen needs more support and guidance on the management of aid distribution, and the government should co-ordinate with the UN in order to mobilise efforts and resources, and distribute aid properly.

He called on the UN to make further efforts to protect Yemeni children, alleviate their suffering, and work to stop the war altogether.

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