AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: The Houthis have begun annual summer camps in Yemen’s regions under the movement’s control, urging parents to allow their children to travel to the locations for their education.
Critics of the Iran-backed Houthis argue that the main goals of the camps are to brainwash and enlist Yemeni youngsters.
Houthi officials have initiated summer programs in schools and other locations, from Hodeidah in the west to capital Sanaa, along with other areas.
Children as young as 10 have been standing in lines to receive instruction in religious teachings and identity from Houthis.
The movement says it intends to attract more than 1 million to its camps.
Yemeni journalists, activists, and human rights groups have expressed outrage at the calls to join the camps, arguing that the Houthis use them to indoctrinate children and provide them with military training prior to fighting government forces.
Footage has been posted of a Houthi instructor showing youngsters how to use an AK-47 assault rifle.
Abdullah Al-Monaifi, a Yemeni journalist, said that the Houthi summer programs indoctrinated children with radical ideologies, and that the camps were a menace to families and communities.
He said: “In the Houthi summer camps the objective is to transform the Yemeni children from free-thinking individuals with human values into a mindless mob, propelled by superstition and violent, terroristic thought that poses a threat to society and family.”
The camps are reported to teach children to revere Houthi leaders and despise the Yemeni government.
Hamzah Al-Jubaihi, a Yemeni media activist who spent five years in Houthi detention, urged parents not to respond to appeals to enroll their children.
Al-Jubaihi said: “Be aware, parents of the target groups and all Yemenis, that the Houthi militia is constantly working to impose its foreign ideas on Yemeni society and to use it as a cultural and doctrinal reference.”
Faisal Al-Magedi, undersecretary of the Ministry of Justice, warned parents against sending their children to Houthi camps, adding that they may be slain fighting on the battlefield as a result.
Al-Magedi said on Twitter: “You are making an enemy for yourself and Yemen as a whole. Save your children before you can’t get them back.”
Yemeni rights groups also joined the chorus condemning Houthi indoctrination centers and calling for the immediate rescue of children.
The Yemeni Coalition for Monitoring Human Rights Violations, also known as Rasd Coalition, said in a statement: “The Houthi group continues to indoctrinate children in summer camps with jihadist ideology, fostering a culture of violence, glorifying battling, and propagating sectarian beliefs. Children’s summer camps damage the psyche of Yemeni youth.”
The UN Panel of Experts said in March that hundreds of Yemeni children had been recruited into Houthi summer camps, and that the movement was employing both compulsion and intimidation to draw youngsters to its camps.
The experts said in the report: “The panel found that the Houthis were continuing with the indoctrination, recruitment and, in some instances, military training of children at the summer camps, in particular in Sanaa and Hodeidah governorates, and using children as combatants.”