ADEN -- While many see the Houthis' signing of an action plan with the United Nations (UN) to protect Yemeni children amid armed conflict as a step in the right direction, its implementation will be the real proof of the group's intentions.
The plan, signed April 18, bans the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict and in support roles. It calls for an end to "the killing and maiming of children and attacks on schools and hospitals, as well as other grave violations".
By signing the plan with the UN, the Houthis committed to ending the recruitment and use of children, releasing children from their ranks within six months and providing them with reintegration support.
"The most difficult part of the journey starts now," said Virginia Gamba, UN Secretary-General António Guterres' special representative for children and armed conflict.
"The action plan must be fully implemented and lead to tangible actions for the improvement of the protection of children in Yemen," she said.
More than 10,200 children have been killed or maimed and some 3,500 children have been verified as recruited and used in the Yemen conflict, which recently entered its eighth year, the UN said.
However, a senior Houthi military official told The Associated Press in 2018 that, since 2014, the group had inducted 18,000 child soldiers into its army.
Findings of a January report compiled by UN experts show 1,406 children between the ages of 10 and 17, recruited by the Houthis, died in the war in 2020.
Yemeni children have been subjected to multiple violations, including "murder, mutilation, rape, recruitment or attacks on schools and health centres", according to the UN.
Yemen is also one of the countries with the highest number of incidents of denial of humanitarian access to populations in need, including children.
UN resident humanitarian co-ordinator for Yemen David Grisley described the action plan as "a step in the right direction".
He said the UN is committed to taking care of children and helping the group to turn the plan into action "starting now".
Houthis break truce
The American Centre for Justice (ACJ), a nonprofit that supports and advocates for victims of global human rights violations that has called for an end to the recruitment of children in conflict, welcomed the signing of the agreement.
But it also said, in a statement posted on its Facebook page, that it has documented the killing of a child soldier in Marib since the UN action plan was signed in April.
The centre also monitored a campaign by the Houthis in al-Mahwit province to recruit children and have them take what is known as "cultural courses", which include sectarian and ideological combative teachings.
Heading up the campaign is Aziz al-Hatfi, the Houthis' provincial leader in al-Mahwit, with Amer al-Aqhoumi, a general mobilisation official, under the direct supervision of Hunain Mohammed Qutina, the Houthi governor of al-Mahwit.
"The success indicators for this agreement are weak," ACJ director Abdul Rahman Berman told Al-Mashareq, in reference to the agreement between the Houthis and the UN.
He noted that "hours after the agreement was signed, a child was killed on one of the fronts in Marib, and there are still thousands of children on the fronts".
Rehabilitating released children
"If the Houthis agree to release recruited children, they must undergo a rehabilitation process," Berman said.
He warned against returning child soldiers to their communities without rehabilitation, saying the psychological effects on them are profound and may make them a source of harm to themselves or others.
"Many children have been subjected to brutal violations by the Houthis in addition to the psychological trauma they have suffered in the war," said Sanaa Human Rights Office director-general Fahmi al-Zubairi.
He stressed the need to take quick action and measures "to rehabilitate the children psychologically, physically and socially, and return them to where children their age ought to be, such as in the classroom".
Political analyst Faisal Ahmed said the action plan is "a complementary step to the agreement signed by the UN with the legitimate government in 2014 for the same purpose".
He said the scale of child recruitment is massive in Yemen, noting that the Houthis recruit the largest number of children.
"The effects of the war on the economy prompted families to push their children to the frontlines to secure a source of income," economist Abdul Aziz al-Absi said.
This could be resolved by implementing measures to assist the families of recruits to ensure that they do not send their sons back to military camps after their release, he said.