21.04.2016 Author: Catherine Shakdam

The Role Children Play in Yemen’s Ongoing Crisis

56456555While there is no love lost in between Saudi Arabia and Yemen – not since the kingdom decided to play target practice with the impoverished nation, in the name of geopolitical scoring and a burning ambition to seize control over the world oil route; Riyadh’s psycho-political warfare is becoming the stuff movies are made off.

Since Riyadh could not military, or politically for that matter break the Resistance movement – not that it didn’t throw its best hat into the ring, Riyadh has resorted to slander, and hypocritical humanitarian grand-standing to better tarnish the image of a movement, which, quite frankly scares the living daylight out of al-Saud.

For all its military might, and the number of its political alliances … Saudi Arabia super-coalition of power has failed to manifest any real victory. And yes I will admit that Aden did in fact fall to al-Saud, but then again military experts would tell you that the seaport city was abandoned so that other fronts could be fortified. More importantly one battle does not win you the war.

Ultimately it is Yemen’s popular will which will determine how Yemen’s future will read. Saudi Arabia is likely to have little say on the matter – however loudly its war machines have roared over the crowds. There is a stealth about Yemen which was forged in absolute conviction – the belief that Yemen will prevail over imperialism, and Wahhabism, for any other way would be worse than any manner of death.

Unlike Riyadh which is fighting out of greed, Sana’a is fighting for Freedom – greater empires have fallen before such desperate bid.

To drum up political support, and maybe some form of popular legitimacy, Saudi Arabia has pushed and pulled, intent on relaunching a debate on the issue of child soldering.

Keen to further discredit Yemen’s Resistance, Riyadh has wielded the one card it knows will find most echo within the global community – only the worst criminals would ever rationalize the exploitation of children right? There can never be anything but malice and absolute immorality behind such an act …

This is where I believe legality, morality and pragmatism are standing on different sides of the river. But before I get to that let me present you the facts. As you will find, outrage and anger have once more been spent on the wrong party. Our leaders’ cynicism will never seize to amaze me.

In February 2016, the UNICEF asserted in a report that Yemen’s “children make up a third of Yemeni fighters.” According to its findings children as young as 14 years-old have been enrolled to fight, the victims of a system which has preyed on destitution and a misplaced sense of duty.

“Children sometimes volunteer to join the conflict,” said Anthony Nolan, a Unicef child protection specialist.”

“Driven by a lack of resources, or a desire to seek revenge for their families. Their recruitment threatens to prolong the conflict for generations to come,” he added.

Now while the UNICEF admitted in its report that child soldering has occurred across the board, and is in no way symptomatic of the Resistance, it still presented the issue as being Houthi-like.

Here is what Julien Harneis, UNICEF’s representative in Yemen, told the Huffington Post this January: “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 … More children have been drawn into armed groups than was the case in the past … it is something we see more frequently with the Houthis.”

Interesting … Allow me here to point out that while the United Nations has had no qualm standing by Saudi Arabia as it arranged for Yemen to be starved to death, one its agencies is playing outrage over an issue which was exacerbated, and more ways than one engineered by the kingdom.

Of course it does not excuse the abuse those children are being put through, but it certainly offers context to one very calculated political move. When it comes to the UN and moral gesture I believe we all should pass.

But this is where facts become fiction, and manipulation.

The Houthis have not employed children in their army. The Resistance is not playing military kindergarten … that would be those militias allied with Riyadh.

There is one very interesting piece of information the Unicef conveniently failed to mention. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, the very man Riyadh appointed as VP and Prime Minister to Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s fictitious government, is also Yemen’s master recruiter of children … him and the political faction he represents: al-Islah aka the Muslim Brotherhood, or at least an umbrella for …

It was him, back in 2011 who actively recruited under-age boys so that he could rise an army against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh. It was him again, who exploited children’s poverty and their parents’ desperation to feed the canons of war and score a few political advances.

In April 2011 Human Rights Watch slammed the US government for supporting Gen. Al-Ahmar after it was established he liberally practiced child soldering. He then was the head of the 1St Armoured Division.

In all fairness Gen. al-Ahmar has had company on this road to moral perdition … others have too, recognize the opportunity of such a “war” market. Tribal militias affiliated to al-Qaeda have also recruited children – often a gun-point, almost always under duress.

South Yemen, which remains allegedly loosely under Saudi-control, has seen the greatest concentration of child soldiers. This fact alone lays waste to claims the Houthis have been instrumental to the crisis.

While I say that the Houthis have not recruited under-age soldiers, I am not refuting the fact that children have in fact bore arms … they have. Denying this reality would be denying the reality of this war.

Hundreds, and thousands of children have been forced to carry a weapon … they were forced NOT by the Houthis but by the circumstances brought upon by Saudi Arabia. With no one to defend their homes and their lands from vengeful pro-Wahhabi militias, or mercenaries bought by al-Saud’s billions Yemen’s children have had to defend their lives, and that of their family.

The Resistance had no hands in this. Those allegations scream of political propaganda. Saudi Arabia is quite clearly over-reaching here … Riyadh cannot exactly claim the moral high ground when it comes to human rights violations, and war crimes. Not when so many under-age boys are sitting on death row: Ali Muhammad al-Nimr comes to mind here.

And so Riyadh has played it contacts to weave an anti-Houthi, anti-Resistance narrative. Who would refute the Unicef’s findings? Especially when they are rooted in truth. As always it is how information are disseminated which weighs heavier.

Yemen today stands a country ravage by war – a war of aggression, a furious colonial war which seeks the death of its national sovereignty, its national identity, and its national pride.

Yemen deserves the courtesy of the truth, let’s give it that!

Catherine Shakdam is the Associate Director of the Beirut Center for Middle Eastern Studies and a political analyst specializing in radical movements, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.