by Sammy Magdy
CAIRO ( Associated Press) – In the video, a man stands in front of a blackboard throughout the class, teaching parts of an AK-47 rifle. Then he hands it to a boy, showing him how to cock it.
Other children crowd around, many who do not seem to be over 10 years old, asking for their turn. The video, which leaked online this month, provides a rare window into the education of child soldiers by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Local residents confirmed to The Associated Press that it was filmed in Yemen’s rebel-held Amran province northwest of the capital Sanaa in recent weeks.
Despite an agreement with the United Nations in April to halt the practice, the Houthi continue to enlist children into military ranks to fight in the country’s peace civil war, Houthi officials, aid workers and residents told the Associated Press.
Two Houthi officials said the rebels had recruited several hundred children, including those under the age of 10, over the past two months. An official said those children have been deployed to the front lines as part of a more than two-month-old build-up of forces during a UN defection.
Officials, both hardliners of the Houthi movement, said they see nothing wrong with the practice, arguing that boys of 10 or 12 are considered men.
“They are not children. They are true men who must defend their country against Saudi, US aggression and defend the Islamic nation,” said one of them. The two spoke to the Houthis on condition of anonymity. Spoke to avoid confrontation with others.
The Houthis have used what they call “summer camps” to spread their religious ideology and recruit boys to fight. Such camps take place in schools and mosques around the Houthi-held part of Yemen, which includes the north and center of the country, and Sanaa.
Yemen’s conflict began in 2014 when the Houthi disbanded their northern enclave and took over Sanaa, forcing the internationally recognized government to flee south. A Saudi-led coalition entered the war in early 2015 to try to restore the government to power, launching a disastrous air campaign and arming anti-Houthi forces.
The war has killed more than 150,000 people, including more than 14,500 civilians and plunged the country into famine, causing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Child soldiers have been involved for years. According to UN experts, around 2,000 Houthi-recruited children died on the battlefield between January 2020 and May 2021. According to UN and aid officials, pro-government forces have also used child militias, but to a much lesser extent and have taken major steps to stop the practice.
In all, the United Nations says more than 10,200 children were killed or maimed in the war, although it is unclear how many fighters may have been.
In April, the rebels signed what the United Nations Children’s Agency described as an “action plan” to end and stop the practice. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the rebels had committed to identifying the children in their ranks and releasing them within six months.
UNICEF and the Houthis have since not responded to requests for comment on the ongoing recruitment.
Four aid workers, along with three international organizations operating in rebel-held areas, said they had intensified Houthi efforts to recruit children in recent weeks. The ranks of the Houthis have thinned due to the loss of the battlefield, especially during the nearly two-year battle for the important city of Marib.
Aid workers spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of their own safety and said their groups could be prevented from operating in Houthi-held territory.
He said the rebels have pressured families to send their children to camps, where they learn how to handle weapons and mine mines in exchange for services including food rations from international organizations.
An aid worker working in the far northern regions said the children could be seen as 10 roadside watchmen with AK-47s hanging on their shoulders. Others are sent to the front line. He said the children had returned wounded from the fighting in Marib.
Thousands of fighters were killed in the Battle of Marib, held by the government. The Houthis’ long attempt to capture it was finally halted in late 2021 when government forces were reinforced by better equipped fighters backed by the United Arab Emirates.
Yemeni commentator and former head of the country’s journalists union Abdel-Bari Taher said the Houthis were exploiting local customs to the detriment of children and society. He said the tradition of carrying or carrying weapons is deeply rooted in Yemen, especially in rural and mountainous communities.
“It’s a source of pride and a kind of masculinity for the boys,” he said.
Some say the Houthis have also conditioned significant food aid for children attending training camps.
Two residents of Amran province said Houthi representatives visited their home in May and asked them to prepare their children for the camps at the end of the school year. The residents, who are farmers, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
He said five of his children, aged 11 to 16, were taken to the school where the video was taken in late May. A father said he was told that if he did not send his children, his family would not get ration.
A UN panel of experts said earlier this year that the rebel militia, a Jedi-Shia religious movement with ties to Iran, has a system to induce child soldiers, including humanitarian forces to pressure families. Includes access to help.
The children are first taken to the centers for religious courses for a month or more. There, they are told that they are engaging in a holy war against Jews and Christians and Arab countries that have succumbed to Western influence. Experts found that seven-year-olds are taught to clean weapons and dodge rockets.
The Houthis have in the past denied officially recruiting children to fight.
But he has also given evidence to the contrary. A high-ranking Houthi, Mohamed al-Bukhati, posted a video from a paid trip to a camp in Dhamar province in early June. It depicts dozens of children in uniform standing up as soldiers and declaring allegiance to the rebel movement’s top leader, Abdul-Malek al-Houthi.
“God’s soldiers,” they shout. “we are coming.”