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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 October 2018

Cash and coercion: how Yemen's rebels get children to fight

Children estimated to make up one-third of rebel ranks

A Yemeni boy poses with a Kalashnikov assault rifle during a gathering of newly-recruited Houthi fighters in Sanaa on July 16, 2017. Mohammed Huwais / AFP
A Yemeni boy poses with a Kalashnikov assault rifle during a gathering of newly-recruited Houthi fighters in Sanaa on July 16, 2017. Mohammed Huwais / AFP

Yemen's Houthi rebels use financial incentives to recruit child soldiers from poor families and coerce them to fight through threats and beatings, according to Yemen's minister of human rights and a former child soldier.

Children who try to escape are forced return, according to the former child soldier, whose testimony was shown in a documentary film presented by the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations at a symposium at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva.

The symposium on the recruitment of children in Yemen was held as part of the 38th session of the UN Human Rights Council that began on Monday, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Lisa Badawi, a Yemeni researcher on rights and freedoms, said a field study had found that children made up nearly one third of the rebels' ranks.

Huda Al Sarari, a lawyer and member of the Yemeni Coalition for Monitoring Human Rights Violations, said the Iran-backed rebels had recruited 305 children in 14 provinces so far this year, SPA reported.

Separately, Yemen's minister of human rights said the Houthis had also resorted to using children to plant mines.

"The Houthi militias have ordered children to plant mines in the areas from which they are expelled or on the Yemeni-Saudi border. These mines led to the death of many people as well as the children recruited by the Iranian-backed Houthi militias," Mohammed Askar told the SPA in an interview.

Mr Askar said the rebels exploited families facing economic hardship, as well as tribal affiliations, to lure children into joining them.

"Many families send their children to join the Houthi militias in exchange for nearly 50,000 Yemeni riyals, equivalent to US$150 [Dh550]," he said, citing interviews with child recruits and their families.

In addition, the rebels conduct "religious mobilisation operations", particularly in the northern province of Saada, the rebel stronghold bordering Saudi Arabia, "where schools allocate weekly classes talking to the students about the virtues of war", Mr Askar said.

Yemeni government forces supported by the Arab Coalition have reported encountering increasing numbers of child soldiers during clashes with the rebels in recent months.

The Saudi-led coalition, in which the UAE plays a key role, has set up rehabilitation programmes for captured child fighters in several Yemeni provinces.

On Saturday, the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre in Marib announced the launch of the fifth and sixth phases of a programme to rehabilitate 80 former child soldiers from various provinces.

The SPA said the centre had so far rehabilitated 161 children as part of a project to help 2,000 children through a month-long programme involving psychological, parental and educational guidance.