The Houthi rebels in Yemen are conscripting children for front-line fighting and refusing to help civilian families unless they provide members to fight for them, Hodeidah residents said.
The Iran-backed group has cut exit routes from the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah and is not allowing civilians to escape to areas under control of pro-government forces.
“Those who want to flee are allowed to do so to rebel-held Sanaa, on condition they leave behind at least two male members of the family to be recruited by the Houthis,” said one resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal.
“The also have a system in which they distribute two kilos of rice and promise monthly aid to families that have members registered to fight with the Houthi militia.”
Forces loyal to President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi — the internationally recognised governmnet — have been fighting the rebels since 2014. The Saudi-led coalition, which includes the UAE, intervened in the war in March 2015 at the request of Mr Hadi’s government to help to restore its power after the Houthis took control of the capital Sanaa.
Meanwhile, residents in towns near Hodeidah city said that the Houthis are conscripting children and dispatching them to the front lines.
Relatives of children forced to fight with the militia said that they were being terrorised by the Houthis, who, they added, refuse to tell them where their relatives are.
Yemenis have accused the Houthis of killing civilians and passing off the blame on the Arab Coalition.
Reports over the past three years have shown Houthis using civilians and children as human shields, by positioning their militants next to civilian structures, often hospitals or schools.
The pro-government Tihama Resistance circulated a list with the names of Houthis and their co-operatives responsible for the forced recruitment of Yemenis, in the hopes of deterring those considering joining the rebel ranks.
Their forcible recruitment attempts extended to Hodeidah where Houthis are monitoring civilians in the port city as potential conscripts.
Mohammed, an activist in Hodeidah, said the Houthis have contacted the city’s residents to collect information on their male family members. Other tactics, however, have been more aggressive.
"Many fathers were forcibly taken to secret prisons, their relatives don't have any information about their whereabouts yet because they refused to send their sons to the fronts," Mohammed said.