Shocking reports emerged Tuesday that Iranian-backed Houthi armed groups in Yemen has been intensely recruiting, training, and deploying child soldiers in violation of international law.
Since the Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, took control of Yemen’s capital in September 2014, they have increasingly used children as scouts, guards, runners, and fighters. Many of the children have been wounded and killed.
Human Rights Watch said that the Houthis and other armed groups using child soldiers in Yemen should “immediately stop recruiting children, including “volunteers,” and release all children in their ranks.”
“As fighting rages in Yemen, the Houthis have ramped up their recruitment of children,” said Fred Abrahams, special adviser. “Commanders from the Houthis and other armed groups should stop using children or risk prosecution for war crimes.”
Human Rights Watch went on to detail that in addition to the Houthi rebels, Islamist and tribal militias as well as armed groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) are also using child soldiers.
UNICEF found that children with the Houthis comprise up to a third of all fighters in Yemen.
The proxy war, between Iran and Saudi Arabia, is essentially being fought by children.
Over 140 child soldiers were recruited by armed groups between March 26 and April 24, 2015, alone, the UN agency said.
These reports fit with eyewitness accounts from journalists in Yemen, who have reported seeing boys between 14 and 16 with rifles and handguns fighting for Houthi forces and other armed groups. One described seeing a 7-year-old boy at a Houthi checkpoint in Sanaa with a military assault rifle.
The picture is similar to Africa in the late 90s when children filled the ranks of numerous warring factions in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Mozambique. The result was a generation of lost children who returned from battle scarred, angry or violent.
Africa continues to deal with this legacy today. It’s likely the middle east will face a similar problem in the decades to come given the pervasiveness of the issue.