ALEXANDRIA: Iran-backed Houthis have arranged graduation ceremonies for thousands of children who joined their summer camps this year in the densely populated areas of Yemen under their control.
The biggest ceremony was organized in Sanaa, where hundreds of children, their relatives and Houthi officials showed up to see the graduating children display their skills.
The Houthis claim that for 45 days, the children were educated, trained and “immunized from false cultures.”
But Yemeni government officials and human rights activists have accused the group of using the camps to indoctrinate Yemeni children with sectarian ideologies and antisemitic propaganda, before sending them to the battlefields.
“These camps prepare children and adolescents to be part of the war machine,” Ahmed Al-Qurashi, director of SEYAJ Organization for the Protection of Children, told Arab News.
During the ceremonies in Sanaa, Saada, Hajjah, Hodeidah and Al-Bayda, children in military attire displayed their combat skills and chanted slogans cursing the US and Israel, blaming them for starting the war on Yemen.
“We tell the world that the Yemeni youth are at the forefront of the ranks in fighting off brutal aggression. These people say no to the damned culture of the US and Israel,” a Houthi figure said at a Sanaa gathering, as nearby children carried the movement’s slogan and pictures of leaders before their relatives.
Parents in Sanaa warn that the Houthis blacklist families who do not encourage children to join recruitment camps during the school summer break.
“There is a clear brainwashing process going on for our children, and we cannot do anything or would be accused of being mercenaries. Those camps and centers turn our children into soldiers loyal to Abdul Malik Al-Houthi,” Mohammed, a middle-aged father of a child who joined the Houthi camps, told the Al-Sahwa news site.
He added that he later had to re-educate his child at home in order to correct some of the Houthi-taught radical ideologies.
Jamel, an 11-year-old student, told the same news site that he “learned in the Houthi camps the true Islam and was educated about expressing loyalty to the Houthis and hating the US and Israel.”
When the Houthis first demanded people in their areas send their children to the summer camps, Yemeni officials and activists quickly warned people against joining the events, and said that the group was “indoctrinating children into joining the battlefields and hating Yemenis and the West.”
However, SEYAJ Organization said in a report that the Houthis have recruited more than 500,000 children through summer camps in 2021.
“SEYAJ is concerned that large numbers of children will be involved in the fighting. We call on the Houthi group to immediately stop the recruitment and involvement of children in the armed conflict, and the use of schools for military purposes.”
Al-Qurashi said that the Houthis woo children into joining recruitment centers and summer camps through financial incentives.
Families that send their children to the battlefields or summer camps are given money and food baskets. The recruited children are usually given the nickname Mujahid.
“Those titles give teenagers big social status and they think that they are important,” he said.
A joint report released by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor and SAM for Rights and Liberates in February said that the Houthis turned schools and other educational facilities into military camps, and modified textbooks with texts that incite violence and glorify the movement.
“Houthis also deliberately used schools and educational facilities for military purposes and used the education system to incite violence and indoctrinate students with the group’s ideologies. They did this by giving lectures with sectarian propaganda contents and promoting their military victories,” the report said.