The Story Of Child Soldiers In The Needless Yemen Humanitarian Crisis

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“The number etched on the bracelet around Mohammed’s wrist gave the 13-year-old soldier comfort as missiles fired from enemy warplanes shook the earth beneath him. For two years Mohammed fought with Yemen’s Houthi rebels against a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States. He says he tortured and killed people and didn’t care whether he lived or died,” reports Maggie Mitchell of the Associated Press from the frontlines of the Yemen War.

“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 would continue explaining the process which would end with his picture being pasted on a coffin and returned to his family for burial.

The Child Soldier Crisis

Mohammed was one of 18 former child soldiers who fought with the Houthi rebels. In their conversations with the Associated Press, they described an efficient process of recruiting and deploying boys as young as 10 to the battlefield in the ongoing battle against the Saudi Arabia forces who have backing by the United States.

Earlier this month, the United States Senate voted to withdraw support from Saudi Arabia passing the S.J.Res.54 — 115th Congress joint resolution which reads:

This joint resolution directs the President to remove U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting Yemen within 30 days unless Congress authorizes a later withdrawal date, issues a declaration of war, or specifically authorizes the use of the Armed Forces. Prohibited activities include providing in-flight fueling for non-U.S. aircraft conducting missions as part of the conflict in Yemen. This joint resolution shall not affect any military operations directed at Al Qaeda.

The President must submit to Congress, within 90 days, reports assessing the risks that would be posed: (1) if the United States were to cease supporting operations with respect to the conflict in Yemen, and (2) if Saudi Arabia were to cease sharing Yemen-related intelligence with the United States.

The Associated Press goes onto to detail the Houthi rebel recruiting of child soldiers explaining that over 18,000 have inducted into the army since the beginning of the war in 2014. A senior Houthi military official spoke on background to the outlet and delivered the information.

“That figure is higher than any number previously reported. The United Nations was able to verify 2,721 children recruited to fight for all sides in the conflict, the large majority for the Houthis, but officials say that count is likely low, because many families will not speak about the issue out of fear of reprisals from Houthi militiamen,” the report details, highlighting how under-reported a problem child soldiers are in the conflict.

The official stance by the Houthis is that they do not recruit child soldiers. However, those interviewed by the Associated Press tell a far different story:

Some of the children told the AP they joined the rebels willingly, mainly because of promises of money or the chance to carry a weapon. But others described being forced into the service of the Houthis — abducted from schools or homes or coerced into joining in exchange for a family member’s release from detention.

A 13-year-old named Riyadh told Maggie that half of the fighters he served with on the front lines in Yemen’s mountainous Sirwah district were children, and officers ordered them to push forward during battles, even as coalition jets zoomed overhead, he explained. Those jets mirror those which use weapons supplied by the United States in the Yemen War.

The Guardian explains a tragic event in August of this year:

The bomb dropped on a school bus in Yemen by a Saudi-led coalition warplane was sold to Riyadh by the US, according to reports based on analysis of the debris. The 9 August attack killed 40 boys aged from six to 11 who were being taken on a school trip. Eleven adults also died. Local authorities said that 79 people were wounded, 56 of them children. CNN reported that the weapon used was a 227kg laser-guided bomb made by Lockheed Martin, one of many thousands sold to Saudi Arabia as part of billions of dollars of weapons exports.

Potential Fallout Of Report

The United States Senate vote to withdraw any aid to Saudi Arabia in the Yemen War was an important first step. The detailed report by Maggie Mitchell details the human toll and the horrors of total war.

While the global military industrial complex is only motivated by money, state actors speaking out against these horrific human rights violations may hamper the power of the Saudi Royal family as they continue to endure pressure after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

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