By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
SANA’A Yemen — The rise in violence in Yemen, ignited by the protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, has led to a subsequent rise in the recruitment of child soldiers.
Currently, there are three main military units fighting each other throughout Yemen, the pro-government Republican Guards and Central Security, and the pro-opposition First Armored Division. Each group has increased its efforts to recruit children into their ranks as tensions within the conflict flare.
The exact number of child soldiers currently engaged in the conflict is unknown due to reluctance by the military units to release such statistics, but it has been estimated to be in the thousands.
The United Nations estimates that 20 percent of the rebel fighters and 15 percent of the government affiliated militia are children. In its annual report, the UN added these groups to its “list of shame,” 57 groups around the world that recruit children to fight in armed conflicts, or do other war time harm to their youth populations.
Human Rights Watch has previously noted the presence of numerous soldiers under the age of 18 fighting in the Yemeni conflict, with some as young as 14. Many of these child soldiers have already served for two years.
Yemeni law does require that individuals be 18 to enlist, but recruiters find ways around this. The use of forged identification cards is rampant.
“Two months ago, my 14-year-old cousin got an ID card showing he is 18 and he joined the Republican Guards,” Hamid al-Ghurbani, a high school teacher in Sana’a told the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN). “Last week, I saw him carrying a gun.”
The Yemeni Ministry of Defense admits that it is aware of the problem, but notes that the IDs are “the only reliable document for determining the age of an applicant.” Most child soldiers have the permission of their parents to join the military, and in some cases the parents are even complicit in the forging of the IDs. The families are in dire need of the extra income.
A few weeks ago the UN unanimously adopted a resolution against the recruitment of child soldiers. The signatories “call upon member states concerned to take decisive and immediate action against persistent perpetrators of violations and abuses committed against children in situations of armed conflict, and further call upon them to bring to justice those responsible for such violations.”
The challenge, while admirable, is daunting. Approximately 300,000 children are being used as child soldiers with the numbers constantly in flux do to ever changing conflicts. Once a child soldier turns 18 they are no longer identified as such. Their years spent as a child soldier become invisible.
For more information, please see:
Middle East Online — Yemen conflict generates more child soldiers — 22 July 2011
IRIN — Yemen: Conflict generating more child soldiers — 20 July 2011
World Tribune — Unthinkable horror: The targeting of children in 21st century warfare — 19 July 2011
The Times of India — UN adopts resolution against recruiting child soldiers — 13 July 2011
Human Rights Watch — Yemen: Stop using Children in Armed Forces — 14 April 2011