AL-MUKALLA: Almost 2,000 Yemeni children, some as young as 10, recruited by the Iran-backed Houthis were killed in fighting between early 2020 and May 2021, the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen said.
The Yemeni militia continues to arrange mass indoctrination and recruitment gatherings for children, the experts said.
Families who refused to send their children to the rebels’ summer camps or battlefields were punished by the rebels.
In their annual report to the UN Security Council released on Saturday, the experts confirmed that the Houthis held large summer camps in schools and mosques where Yemeni children were radicalized, given weapons training and then sent to the battlefields to fight Yemeni government forces.
“The panel received a list of 1,406 children recruited by the Houthis who died on the battlefield in 2020. The panel also received a list of 562 children recruited by the Houthis who died on the battlefield between January and May 2021,” the experts said in the 303-page report.
During the annual summer camps, children received military training, including evading rockets, planting mines and digging tunnels.
“Summer camps and cultural courses targeting children and adults are part of the Houthis’ strategy to gain support for their ideology, and encourage people to join the fighting and motivate troops,” the report said.
The experts also said they documented cases of Houthis sexually assaulting women who refused to join their indoctrination camps.
The rebels also deprived other people of humanitarian assistance for refusing to fight, and raped some young participants.
According to the experts, many Yemenis join the recruitment events out of fear of Houthi punishment or losing financial benefits.
“Two women who refused to participate in these courses were arrested and raped,” the report said.
“The panel also documented a case in which sexual violence was committed against a child who underwent military training. The panel received information on 10 cases in which children were taken to fight on the pretext that they would be enrolled in cultural courses or in which they were taken from such courses to the battlefield.”
Yemeni military experts and officials believe that the Houthis have intensified the recruitment of children through summer camps and courses in recent years to boost their manpower, which has been depleted by attrition tactics used by government troops in Marib province or by massive airstrikes by the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen.
Military officials told Arab News that child soldiers have been killed on battlefields outside the city of Marib as the Houthis pushed to seize control of the strategic city.
“Most of the Houthi deaths in Marib are children. We have captured 500 children fighting along with the Houthis. We believe that the Houthis sent children to the battlefields to compensate for their large casualties,” Yahiya Al-Hatemi, director of the Yemen army’s military media, said.
Covering the year to Dec. 5, 2021, the UN report accused the Houthis of staging deadly drone and missile strikes on Saudi Arabia and violating the UN arms embargo on Yemen.
“The Houthis continue to source critical components for their weapon systems from companies in Europe and Asia, using a complex network of intermediaries to obscure the chain of custody.”
Yemeni human rights activists, who have long campaigned against Houthi recruitment of children, say that they are not surprised by the UN report’s findings and the number of children’s deaths on the battlefield is much higher than 2,000.
“In my opinion and observation, the number of children killed in fighting is bigger than the UN findings. This is a war crime. There are huge masses of children influenced and recruited by the Houthi summer camps,” Ahmed Al-Qurashi, director of SEYAJ Organization for the Protection of Children, told Arab News.
“Schools have been turned into military sites for educating children on war, and directing them to the battlefields,” Al-Qurashi said.