The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have enlisted some 18,000 child soldiers into their group since the beginning of the civil war in 2014, as a heartbroken teacher told them: “They were taken from the school and returned in coffins.”
The former teacher from the city of Dhamar charged that at least 14 students from his school were recruited by the Houthis – some voluntarily, others by coercion – and then died in battle. Most of them were fifth and sixth graders.
Both of the warring sides in the conflict, the Iranian-sponsored Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition which backs Yemen’s internationally recognized government, have allegedly sent children into combat in violation of international human rights conventions.
The Houthi rebels, however, are said to have recruited many more than the coalition, often by force. The 18,000-figure cited by AP – corroborated by a senior Houthi official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity – is higher than any previous estimates. The United Nations previously identified 2,721 children recruited to fight for all sides in the conflict, the large majority for Houthi rebels.
During their research, AP interviewed 13-year-old former child soldier Mohammed, who fought with the Iranian-backed rebel group against the Saudi-led coalition. He told AP that he tortured and killed people and didn’t care whether he lived or died.
Pointing to a number etched on the bracelet around his wrist, he said: “When I become a martyr, they enter my number in the computer, retrieve my picture and my name, then print them with the name ‘Martyr’ underneath,” Mohammed said. It would be pasted to the lid of his coffin for return to his family.
The boy was among 18 former child soldiers interviewed by AP.
Another 13-year-old boy, identified only by his first name Saleh, said Houthi rebels stormed his family’s home in the northern district of Bani Matar and demanded that all men in the house join them on the frontline. His father refused. “They dragged him away,” the boy recalled. “I heard the bullets, then my father collapsing dead.” Saleh was then taken from his home by force.
In October, UNICEF reported that more than 6,000 children have died or have been maimed in Yemen since the beginning of the war.
[Photo: Associated Press / YouTube ]