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Yemen's Houthis intensify use of child soldiers, says rights group

Children with the Houthis and other armed groups comprise up to a third of all fighters in Yemen, says UNICEF
Armed Yemeni children sit in the back of a pick up in the southern Yemeni city of Aden on 10 May (AFP)

Yemen’s Houthis have intensified their recruitment, training and deployment of child soldiers, using them as scouts, guards and fighters, Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Tuesday.

“As fighting rages in Yemen, the Houthis have ramped up their recruitment of children,” said Fred Abrahams, HRW special adviser said in the statement.

“Commanders from the Houthis and other armed groups should stop using children or risk prosecution for war crimes,” added Abrahams, clarifying that the use of children in war is a stark violation of international law.

In recent months, reports from Yemen showed many boys in their early teens and even younger had been recruited by the militia to take part in the fighting.

On Monday the Washington Post reported on a 15-year-old boy who had disappeared for three months, only to reappear as one of the Houthis' growing number of underage soldiers fighting in the country.

“Hundreds and possibly thousands of boys are fighting in Yemen’s conflict, according to rights groups and aid workers. Many are between the ages of 13 and 16,” said The Washington Post.

In March, HRW reported on a Houthi recruiter who told the rights group he had been “actively recruiting children for the Houthis in Amran for more than a year”.

“Children without military training do not participate in active combat, but mostly serve as guards or carry ammunition and food to front-line fighters. They also retrieve killed and wounded fighters and provide first aid,” the recruiter said.

Several Houthi child soldiers have reportedly been injured due to their involvement in the armed conflict.

According to the statement, the Houthis first give children ideological and Zaidi Shia Islamic training for at least a month, followed by military training at one of the militant group’s bases.

The children, who bring their own weapons, are provided ammunition but not paid. They are given a supply of food and qat – a plant widely chewed in Yemen as a stimulant, said the release.

The Houthis have a long record of using child soldiers, which HRW has reported on since 2009.

In November 2012, the head of the Houthis, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, pledged to work toward stopping his group’s use of child soldiers.

While the practice has been amplified however, the Houthis are not the only group in Yemen who using children in armed conflicts.

In addition to the Houthis, Islamist and tribal militias and armed groups such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have been deploying child soldiers, HRW said in the statement.

Several experts and reporters have also verified this information on social media.

According to UNICEF, children with the Houthis and other armed groups comprise up to a third of all fighters in Yemen.

Armed groups recruited at least 140 children between March 26 and April 24, 2015, alone, the UN agency said.

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