DUBAI/GENEVA: Nearly 1,500 children have been recruited by Yemen’s warring parties, mostly the Houthi rebels, since March 2015, the U.N. said Tuesday. The U.N. has verified the recruitment of 1,476 children, all boys, between March 26, 2015, and Jan. 31, 2017, a statement by the spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani said.
“The numbers are likely to be much higher as most families are not willing to talk about the recruitment of their children, for fear of reprisals,” she said.
“Just last week, we received new reports of children who were recruited without the knowledge of their families,” she said, adding that children under 18 are either being “misled or attracted by promises of financial rewards or social status.”
In a new report, Amnesty International said the Houthis have tapped into the growing number of students in poor areas who are out of school because of the conflict.
When child soldiers are killed in combat, their parents receive up to $120 a month as well as weapons, Amnesty said. The family members and other witnesses interviewed by Amnesty said the children were initially taken to a Quranic school near the capital, Sanaa, where they were indoctrinated. Amnesty cited family members of four boys, aged 15 and 17, who were recruited by the rebels and are now fighting along the Yemeni-Saudi border, which has seen some of the heaviest fighting over the past two years.
The Iran-backed Houthis and their allies overran the capital Sanaa in 2014 before sweeping south, forcing the internationally recognized government to flee.
The war escalated in March 2015 when an Arab coalition began a military campaign against the rebels in support of President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi.
The recruitment of children under 15 “may amount to a war crime,” said Shamdasani.
“We urge them to immediately release such children.”
Shamdasani said 4,667 civilians had been killed in the conflict since March 2015, while 8,180 others were wounded. In total, the U.N. says that more than 10,000 people have been killed in the war and 40,000 others wounded.
The International Committee of the Red Cross Tuesday said Yemen has food reserves for only two to four months, bringing it to the brink of famine as fighting escalates.
Robert Mardini, ICRC regional director for the Middle East, called for the lifting of restrictions on the import and movement of goods and voiced concern at the fate of 500,000 people in the port city of Hudaida as the conflict moves north up the Red Sea coast.
The “lifeline” of aid moving through Hudaida and other ports is starting to be cut, Mardini told reporters in Geneva.
“If this happens of course it will add a huge burden on a swath of the Yemen territory where millions of people live.”