One third of combatants in Yemen are children: UNICEF

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Photo: AP

The United Nations Children's Fund has expressed concern over the use of large number of child fighters by armed groups in Yemen. 

"Up to a third of combatants in armed groups in conflict-torn Yemen are children...I have been myself held up at checkpoints by children who were 14, 15 and sometimes even little younger," UNICEF's Representative in Yemen Julien Harneis told The Anadolu Agency in Geneva.

Motivated by money and with the aim of defending families or tribes as part of their culture in the poorest country of the Middle East, an increasing number of children are being recruited by Yemen's warring factions.

"It is a cultural issue...In Yemen, in many parts of the country, it is considered to be normal, if not a good thing, to pick up a gun and be able to contribute to the defense of your family and tribe," Harneis said.

"I have met people working at government ministries, social affairs who explain when they were 8-years-old, their fathers taught them how to use a Kalashnikov and they did the same with their own children," he said.

However, the presence of child soldiers in Yemen is also financial. "The other element is vulnerable children. There is a small bits of money....that motivates children to join armed groups," he said. 

"Whatever the cause is, it is wrong. The children should not be in armed groups," he added.

He also said that about a million children were out of school in Yemen. "Their parents are too scared to send them to school," he added.

At least 77 children have been killed and 44 others have been injured since March 26, figures that UNICEF could verify.

Yemen has been descending into chaos since Houthi rebels took control of the Yemeni capital Sanaa and advanced on the southern port city of Aden. Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi had fled to Saudi Arabia following the Houthi advance amid heavy clashes.

Saudi Arabia and several Arab allies have carried out airstrikes against Houthi positions since March 26. The Saudi-led coalition says the campaign is in response to Hadi's appeal to "save the (Yemeni) people from the Houthi militias." The Houthis, for their part, describe the offensive as an unwarranted "Saudi-American aggression" against the Yemeni people. Moreover, some Sunni Gulf countries accuse Shia Iran of supporting Yemen's Houthi insurgency.

As clashes intensify in Yemen, people are terrified by the fighting. "Deep dismay among Yemenis is that where is the country going, what kind of society are they going to be living in the future... It is a very sad depressing time for Yemenis," Harneis added.

The UN's health agency said Wednesday that 643 people were killed, while 2,226 others were injured since March 19 in Yemen. More than 100,000 people have been displaced since the conflict began in the country, according to the UN.

The UN has also warned of "massive displacement" and a humanitarian crisis as Yemen descends into further chaos and civilians flee the fighting.

"The international community must prepare for a worst-case scenario," UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Chaloka Beyani said Wednesday.

The UNICEF is United Nations' Children's rights and emergency relief organization.

Source: The Journal of Turkish Weekly

Photo: AP

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