How Children Are Forced To The Front Lines Of Yemen’s War – Huffington Post

Have children always participated in conflict in Yemen?

It’s a long-term problem in Yemen. In Yemeni culture, it’s considered that you come into manhood at the age of 14 or 15 years old, and part of being a man is taking up a weapon. Yemen has the second-highest amount of arms per capita after the United States, so there’s a very strong gun culture in Yemeni society.

However, this current conflict has exacerbated the problem. More children have been drawn into armed groups than was the case in the past. Now, there’s a war across the country and children are getting dragged into it.

Are all sides of the conflict using child fighters?

Certainly, it is something we see more frequently with the Houthis. However, we also see it with the [pro-government] popular committees in the south of Yemen. So it’s not limited to any one group.

What is life like for a child fighter in Yemen — do they get paid? Do they get sent into combat?

They do receive a small payment. Many of the children are guarding checkpoints on roads — in fact I saw some this morning. But they’re also on the front line fighting as well. Many children have been captured by rival armed groups, and progressively children are also being killed in fighting.

What do you think is a realistic estimate for the number of child fighters in Yemen at the moment?

It’s really not possible to say, unfortunately. That would require us to be able to travel around the country and do a count, and that’s not possible in this context. Based upon driving around and working in different parts of Yemen, I can say that there is a very significant proportion of the fighters who are children.

Last year, you said up to one-third of fighters in armed groups were children. Does that still seem about right?

It’s very hard to put a number on it, but when I say a significant proportion, it is getting towards that sort of number.

The latest UN figures say at least 724 children were pressed into military activity. How does the UN reach that number?

Those are verified numbers — we identify a child associated with an armed group and double check to make sure that is correct. Because it requires a certain level of verification, it’s obviously a gross understatement of the reality. There are many, many more children who form part of armed groups.