Child soldiers still recruited in Yemen

Houthi rebels in Yemen are reportedly recruiting child soldiers to fight in the country’s civil war.

The rebels had promised to end the practice as part of a truce agreement reached with the United Nations in April.

However, hundreds of boys were recruited in the weeks following the signing of the agreement, report Houthi representatives, aid workers and civilians.

Video posted online shows man teaching Yemeni children the duties of a powerful army musket.

Local residents confirmed at The Associated Press that the video was shot over the past few weeks in the rebel-held area of ​​Amran.

Houthi officials said they saw nothing wrong with the practice, saying boys as young as 10 or 12 were considered men.

These “are not children. They are real men, who should defend their nation against Saudi and American aggression,” a 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 for combat. These camps take place in schools and mosques in Houthi-held areas in Yemen. The Houthis hold parts of the north and center of the country, as well as the capital Sanaa.

The conflict in Yemen began in 2014 when the Houthis took control of Sanaa. This forced the government to flee south. A Saudi-led military group went to war in early 2015 in an attempt to return the government to power.

The war in Yemen is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. It killed over 150,000 people, including over 14,500 civilians. The country is in a quasi-famine.

Child soldiers have been involved for years. Nearly 2,000 children recruited by the Houthis were killed on the battlefield between January 2020 and May 2021, according to UN experts. Pro-government forces also used child combatants, but far fewer. UN aid officials say the government has also taken bigger steps to end the practice.

FILE – Kahlan, a 12-year-old former child soldier, demonstrates how to use a weapon, at a camp for displaced people where he took refuge with his family, in Marib, Yemen, July 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)

Overall, the UN says more than 10,200 children were killed or injured during the war. But it is unclear how many of those killed were combatants.

In April, the rebels signed what the UN children’s agency called an “action plan” to stop recruiting child soldiers. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the rebels had promised to identify child combatants and release them within six months.

Four aid workers from three international organizations working in rebel-held areas said they had observed more Houthi efforts to recruit children in recent weeks. The Houthis suffered many casualties, including in a nearly two-year battle for the town of Marib.

Aid workers said the rebels pressured families to send their children to the camps. In return, they receive aid, including food, from international organizations.

Two residents of Amran province said Houthi members came to their home 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 that month, the parents said, the children were taken to the school in Amran, the very location where the video was taken.

A father said he was told that if he did not send his children, his family would no longer receive food.

A Houthi leader posted a video in early June as he visited one of the camps. This shows dozens of children in uniform standing in a military type formation. They declared allegiance to the supreme leader of the rebel movement, Abdul-Malek al-Houthi.

I am Dan Novak.

Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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words in this story

recruit v. to find the right people and integrate them into a company, an organization, the armed forces, etc.

musket nm a firearm that has a long barrel and is held against your shoulder when fired

resident nm someone who lives in a particular place

truce nm an agreement between enemies or adversaries to stop fighting, arguing, etc., for a certain period of time

anonymity nm the quality or state of being unknown to most people

mosquenm a building that is used for Muslim religious services

famine nm a situation in which many people do not have enough to eat

dozennm a group of 12 people or things

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