20 June 2022
Houthi rebels in Yemen are reported to be recruiting child soldiers to fight in the country's civil war.
The rebels had promised to stop the practice as part of a truce agreement reached with the United Nations in April.
However, hundreds of boys have been recruited in the weeks since the agreement was signed, reports Houthi representatives, aid workers and civilians.
A video released online shows a man teaching Yemeni children about the parts of a powerful military rifle.
Local residents confirmed to The Associated Press that the video was shot in the last several weeks in the rebel-held area of Amran.
Houthi officials said they see nothing wrong with the practice, arguing that boys from 10 or 12 are considered men.
These "are not children. They are true men, who should defend their nation against the Saudi, American aggression," one Houthi leader said. He spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity.
The Houthis have used what they call "summer camps" to teach religion and train in fighting. Such camps take place in schools and mosques in the Houthi-held areas of Yemen. Houthis hold areas of the north and center of the country, as well as the capital of Sanaa.
Yemen's conflict began in 2014 when the Houthis took over Sanaa. That forced the government to flee to the south. A Saudi-led military group entered the war in early 2015 to try to put the government back in power.
The war in Yemen is one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. It has killed more than 150,000 people, including more than 14,500 civilians. The country is in a near-famine.
Child soldiers have been involved for years. Nearly 2,000 Houthi-recruited children were killed on the battlefield between January 2020 and May 2021, U.N. experts say. Pro-government forces have also used child fighters but far fewer. U.N. aid officials say the government has also taken greater measures to end the practice.
Overall, the U.N. says over 10,200 children have been killed or wounded in the war. But it is unclear how many killed have been fighters.
In April, the rebels signed what the U.N. children's agency called an "action plan" to stop recruiting child soldiers. U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the rebels promised to identify children fighters and release them within six months.
Four aid workers with three international organizations working in rebel-held areas said they observed more Houthi efforts to recruit children in recent weeks. The Houthis' have suffered many losses, especially during an almost two-year battle for the city of Marib.
The aid workers said the rebels have pressured families to send their children to the camps. In return, they receive assistance, including food, from international organizations.
Two residents in Amran province said Houthi members came to their homes in May. They told them to prepare their five children, ages 11 to 16, to attend camps at the end of the school year.
Later in the month, the parents said, the children were taken to the school in Amran, the same place where the video had been shot.
One father said he was told that if he did not send his children, his family would no longer receive food.
One Houthi leader posted a video in early June when he visited one of the camps. It shows dozens of children in uniforms standing in a military-like formation. They declared allegiance to the rebel movement's top leader, Abdul-Malek al-Houthi.
I'm Dan Novak.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting from The Associated Press.
Words in This Story
recruit — v. to find suitable people and get them to join a company, an organization, the armed forces, etc.
rifle — n. a gun that has a long barrel and that is held against your shoulder when you shoot it
resident — n. someone who lives in a particular place
truce — n. an agreement between enemies or opponents to stop fighting, arguing, etc., for a certain period of time
anonymity — n. the quality or state of being unknown to most people
mosque — n. a building that is used for Muslim religious services
famine — n. a situation in which many people do not have enough food to eat
dozen — n. a group of 12 people or things