Report accuses Yemen's Houthi rebels of recruiting 10,000 child soldiers

Rebels use threats, ideological indoctrination and money to recruit young fighters, rights groups say

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Yemen’s Houthi rebels have forcibly recruited more than 10,000 children since the country’s civil war began in 2014, according to a new report by rights groups.

Hundreds of the children have been killed or injured while fighting for the Houthis, the report by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor and the SAM for Rights and Liberties said, including 111 who were killed during the battles between July and August 2020 alone.

The rebels have been openly recruiting children as young as 10 since 2018, according to the report, which was released on Friday to mark the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers.

Child recruitment is a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The Geneva-based groups said the Houthis indoctrinate children in their ideology through lectures held in schools to promote extremist ideas and encourage the students to support the rebel cause.

The Iran-backed rebels have opened 52 training camps for thousands of adolescents and children in Saada, Sanaa, Al Mahwit, Hodeidah, Tihama, Hajjah and Dhamar, targeting children 10 years old or above, the report said.

FILE - In this July 27, 2018, file photo, Kahlan, a 12-year-old former child soldier with Yemen's Houthi rebels, demonstrates how to use a weapon at a camp for displaced persons where he took shelter with his family in Marib, Yemen. President Joe Biden's announcement that the U.S. will end its support of a Saudi-led coalition's years-long war against Yemen's Houthi rebels likely will increase pressure on the kingdom to end its campaign there, though reaching an enduring peace for the Arab world's poorest country still remains in question. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
Kahlan, a former child soldier with Yemen's Houthi rebels, demonstrates how to use a weapon at a camp for displaced people in Marib province in July 2018, when he was 12 years old. AP Photo

The report said the Houthis used intimidation as well as financial incentives in their recruitment of children. The rebels threaten families in areas under its control to give up their children and also target children in displacement camps and orphanages. In some cases, the group has offered poor families $150 a month in exchange for their children.

After ideological indoctrination and a month of military training, the children are sent to battlefronts where they are used to guard military posts and lay mines, as well as in direct combat with pro-government forces.

One of the child soldiers cited in the report said they were assigned to the mountainous Nihm battlefront near the rebel-held capital Sanaa.

“I was assigned with loading the guns and transporting them with foodstuffs to high, rugged areas. It was hard and exhausting. I used to get beaten and reprimanded when I arrived late. I cried a lot during those nights, fearing for my life and for missing my mother, father and brothers,” the child said.

The report quoted child soldiers as saying they were threatened with punishments including starvation, imprisonment, physical and sexual assault, and death if they failed to carry out orders.

“The United Nations should not tolerate this large-scale recruitment of children by the Houthis in Yemen,” the rights groups said.

“However, what is more troubling is not only the inclusion of children in military operations but feeding their simple minds with extremist ideas and filling them with hate speech and violence, and thus creating future extremists who may not be easily controlled given the huge number that the group recruits or aims to recruit in the future.”