Child rights organizations silent on child military recruitment
Child recruitment is being practiced across all political affiliations including Al-Qaeda, the regime’s forces, armed groups and tribes. Children are involved in the armed conflicts and have been placed on the front line as human shields.
According to Yemeni organizations working in child protection, it is easier to recruit children as their beliefs and minds can be moulded by heroic stories of manhood and strength.
These organizations accuse the former regime of exploiting children and involving them in violent clashes across the country over the past year. The organizations also criticize the government for failing to take firm action to overcome child recruitment.
Thousands of children have been recruited in 2011 by the regime’s army, the defecting first armored division, armed pro- and anti-regime tribes, as well as by Al-Qaeda.
Sadiq Al-Faqih, an officer at the Department of Military Logistics in the Defense Ministry confirmed what the child organizations said about child recruitment in the Yemeni military.
“Child military recruitment is actually taking place in the Republican Guards and the First Armored Division, as well as by Al-Qaeda,” he said.
“All of them are involved in exploiting the poor economic conditions of families, the instability, unemployment, poverty and conflict in the country”, said Al-Faqih to the Yemen Times.
Al-Faqih said that child recruitment takes place irregardless of the religion, morality or patriotism of the forces doing the recruitment. “Child recruitment is not only limited to poor families. The children of officials are also recruited,” adding that these child soldiers later come to occupy senior positions in the army.
He called on human rights organizations to visit the private prisons of the Republican Guards and the First Armored Division to check on the conditions of detained child soldiers.
“They will see incredible things and they will realize that these imprisoned children are victims and are oppressed. Most of them were arrested by the conflicting parties”, said Al-Faqih.
He stressed that sanctions should be implemented against the violators of children’s rights and the national and international laws governing children’s rights.
Children forced to join armed groups
Children are often kidnapped and forced to join an armed group, according to a study by psychology researcher Mohammad Al-Saeedi.
However, sometimes children join an armed group by their own choice. The study pointed towards poverty, illiteracy and discrimination as being the most important motivations for voluntary recruitment of children.
“Several children have joined armed groups for protection, or a desire to survive. Some join for revenge, or a sense of affiliation due to a loss of housing and family members,” the study reveals.
Child rights organizations silent
The head of Siyaj Child Protection Organization, Ahmed Al-Qurashi, said that the problem of child recruitment is not only limited to Al-Qaeda and Islamic groups, but also the regime’s forces including the First Armored Division and the Republican Guards.
Al-Qurashi indicated that Al-Qaeda has taken advantage of the situation in Yemen where a culture of holding weapons is seen as an integral part of manhood.
“So, they [Al-Qaeda] encourage child military recruitment,” said Al-Qurashi. “More than half of the Houthis fighters in Sa’ada are under the legal age,” he added.
Al-Qurashi accused child rights organizations of participating in this crime against children through their silence on these violations, and their failure to take any actions to criminalize the practice.
“They [child rights organizations] have not taken serious action against violators because of their presence in areas of armed conflict,” he said.
Al-Qurashi said that the job of such organizations is purely humanitarian and must not be biased to a particular party, or play the role of spectator when violations against children are committed.
He stressed the role of international organizations, civil society organizations, human rights organizations including child rights organizations in fighting this problem and in getting violators handed over to the international courts for crimes against humanity.
The commander of the First Armored Division and the northwest military region, Major General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, responded to the appeal from the Siyaj Child Organization by demobilizing 100 children last November that had been recruited by the division.
The Ministry of Defense in late 2011 called for the investigation of child recruitment cases. It also stressed the referral of persons convicted of child recruitment to the courts, and for the demobilization of children.
“Fighting this problem needs the cooperation of all governmental and human rights organizations,” said Maryam Al-Shawafi, Secretary-General and Executive Director of the Shawthab Foundation.
Al-Shawwafi said that there are no solid statistics on child soldiers, especially in the governorates of Abyan and Sa’ada, partly because children are often integrated into forces wearing civilian clothes.
She highlighted the importance of awareness programs in schools. Students and their parents needed to understand the risks that getting involved with armed groups would pose to children’s futures.