An annual UN report circulated on the 29th of January found that almost 2,000 child soldiers, aged between 10 to 17 years old, have died in battle since the beginning of 2020 while fighting for the Houthi rebels in Yemen’s brutal, ongoing civil war.
The UN has described the conflict in Yemen as “the world’s worst humanitarian disaster,” reporting that more than 10,000 children have died since the beginning of the civil war. Many civilians are continuously perishing from airstrikes, starvation, and mass displacement. Alongside the deaths from active conflict, a large proportion of the Yemeni population dies from inadequate medical care and diseases which could be easily curable with the apposite resources. In December 2020, the UN reported that the Yemeni conflict caused approximately 233,000 deaths, 131,000 of which are from indirect causes such as food insecurity, poor access to medical services, and damages to infrastructure.
Poverty is purportedly the most significant contributing factor to the recruitment of child soldiers. USAID has reported that 80% of the Yemeni population needs humanitarian assistance. With mass displacement and food insecurity, child soldiers are lured into military service with the attractive salary of $2 per day, “along with a hot meal, in return for a day in the sun and vigils at night,” Al Jazeera reports. While child soldiers are often monetarily incentivized to join the military and rebel forces, Al Jazeera cited a 2013 UN report which stated that young boys were also being “recruited by Ansar Al-Sharia with the clear purpose of sexual exploitation.” These young soldiers are thus not only subject to injury, disability, trauma, and death, but many are abused sexually by their commanders and higher-ranking comrades.
The conflict in Yemen is said to have begun with the 2011 Arab Spring, a series of pro-democratic protests and uprisings which spread across Arab-speaking countries in North Africa and the Middle East, leading to the collapse of the Egyptian, Tunisian, Libyan and Yemeni governments. In 2015, Yemen’s conflict evolved into a civil war between a Saudi-led coalition and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman voiced her opinions on the conflict in an event held at the Brookings Doha Center. Karman maintained that both the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis are guilty of crimes against humanity, claiming “any political solution to the crisis requires the halting of foreign arms sales in the country,” including arms sales by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to the coalition, and Iran’s supplying of weaponry to the Houthis. She also emphasized that “the international community must play a pivotal role in pushing for peace.” The Yemeni conflict has often been labeled the “forgotten war,” due to the West’s perceived inefficacy in reacting to the country’s crisis. Attempts to regain peace in Yemen should be prioritized by the international community and the sale of firearms halted if the lives of thousands are to be saved.
Many factors contribute to the persistence of conflict in Yemen. There exists a complex web of political complications that hinder attempts to re-establish peace. However, it is clear that the international community’s lack of a response to one of the world’s “worst humanitarian disaster[s]” plays a huge role in the continued violence in Yemen’s poverty-stricken and war-torn land. This crisis should be addressed immediately to prevent further loss of life.
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