UNICEF re­ports that chil­dren make up one-third of ac­tive Ye­men fighters


Chil­dren make up a third of fighters in the armed groups in con­flict-wracked Ye­men, a U.N. of­fi­cial said Thurs­day, also warn­ing that mal­nu­tri­tion lev­els in the coun­try were set to ex­plode.

“We are see­ing chil­dren in battle, at check-points and un­for­tu­nately among (those) killed and in­jured,” Julien Harneis, UNICEF’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Ye­men, told AFP dur­ing a stop in Geneva.

Staff of the United Na­tions chil­dren’s agency and its part­ners had es­ti­mated that around 30 per­cent of fighters in the armed groups were mi­nors, he said.

In Ye­men’s tribal cul­ture, it is com­mon for boys to take up arms at a young age — some­thing that is hav­ing dire con­se­quences amid the spi­ral­ing con­flict.

“You can say that up to a third of fighters in the armed groups in Ye­men are chil­dren,” Harneis said.

Saudi-led forces launched air strikes last month as Shi­ite Huthi rebels ad­vanced on Ye­men’s main south­ern city of Aden af­ter seiz­ing the cap­i­tal.

Pres­i­dent Abedrabbo Man­sour Hadi fled Aden for Saudi Ara­bia dur­ing the Huthi ad­vance and the city has since seen heavy clashes be­tween pro- and anti-gov­ern­ment forces.

Even when they are not on the front lines in the con­flict, chil­dren are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble, Harneis said.

UNICEF has con­firmed that 77 chil­dren have been killed and 44 oth­ers in­jured since March 26, the Franco-Bri­tish na­tional said, adding though that the true toll was likely far higher.

“There are chil­dren dy­ing in bomb­ings in the north... and by very in­tense bat­tles in Aden and Daleh. All of the par­ties to the con­flict are to blame,” he said.

Spike in Mal­nu­tri­tion

In ad­di­tion to the vi­o­lence, al­ready high mal­nu­tri­tion lev­els in Ye­men are ex­pected to soar.

“We are go­ing to see a spike in mal­nu­tri­tion in com­ing weeks. Un­for­tu­nately, that is some­thing we are sure of,” Harneis said.

“Dif­fi­cul­ties in ac­cess­ing wa­ter, ris­ing prices for sup­plies, the dif­fi­culty to move around the coun­try ... All of this com­bined with cuts in state-run ser­vices (means) we will again see ... hikes in mal­nu­tri­tion,” he warned.

Lack­ing ac­cess to food could be cat­a­strophic in Ye­men, where chronic mal­nu­tri­tion lev­els last year al­ready stood at a stag­ger­ing 48 per­cent — among the high­est in the world, Harneis said.

The con­flict will also lead to a decline in the num­ber of chil­dren at­tend­ing school in a coun­try where one mil­lion school-aged chil­dren were al­ready not re­ceiv­ing an ed­u­ca­tion, he said.

In light of the des­per­ate sit­u­a­tion, UNICEF is hop­ing to send med­i­cal sup­plies, drink­ing wa­ter and hy­giene prod­ucts to Sanaa “to­day,” Harneis said.

If the U.N. agency man­ages to get the plane into the coun­try, it would mark the first flight to Sanaa car­ry­ing aid sup­plies since the lat­est round of hos­til­i­ties be­gan.

Harneis said he was in Geneva to tell diplo­mats what he and his col­leagues are see­ing on the ground, “in the hope the states will use this in­for­ma­tion to re­duce the im­pact of the con­flict on chil­dren.”

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