Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 26 November 2020

Yemen’s child soldiers need rehabilitation

There is no moral justification for arming children like this Houthi-supporting boy in Yemen.  (Mohammed Huwais / AFP)
There is no moral justification for arming children like this Houthi-supporting boy in Yemen. (Mohammed Huwais / AFP)

No parent should have to bury their own child, especially under the circumstances faced by Ghazal, the mother of 14-year-old Ahmed Al Sorori. When Ahmed disappeared from the family home in Sanaa, she thought he had travelled to their village. Instead, he had been lured by a group of so-called friends into the ranks of the Houthi rebels who are fighting a bloody, but ultimately losing, battle to overthrow the legitimate government of Yemen. Two weeks after Ahmed disappeared, his body was returned to his mother.

Cynically recruiting children to take up arms for a cause they do not, and cannot, understand is the height of moral and ethical bankruptcy. It is an obscenity. Yet with estimates that up to a third of their fighting force are teenagers, it is clear that the Houthis are attempting to exploit and pollute an entire generation of Yemenis. They have stolen their childhood, deprived them of an education and proper religious instruction, and denied them a future.

Under Yemeni law and accepted practice worldwide, the minimum age for a front line soldier is 18. Under international law, recruiting a child younger than 15 is a war crime. Make no mistake, the Houthis are criminals. They are not freedom fighters, they are a foreign-backed force that has no plan for Yemen except to perpetuate sectarian chaos. Once they usurped the reins of government in Sanaa, it was clear that they must be stopped.

The UAE has, rightly, joined the Saudi-led coalition to restore president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi and his government to power. This has been a costly battle for the UAE, in terms of the lives of our soldiers, but it is a necessary one. The coalition is slowly but surely moving towards victory against the Houthis, but our engagement won’t be over when the capital is prised from the grip of the extremists. The UAE has already committed to rebuilding infrastructure in Yemen and is providing practical help on the ground via the Emirates Red Cresecent.

We should also take an active role in demobbing and rehabilitating the young soldiers who have been so cynically drafted into the conflict. Lest the cycle of violence perpetuate itself, they will need help to reclaim their childhood, with all the simple pleasures, recreation, education and moral instruction that that entails. It is too late for Ahmed, but his generation can still be saved.

Updated: October 11, 2015 04:00 AM

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