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Exclusive – Yemeni Parents Despair over Houthi Recruitment of their Children

Exclusive – Yemeni Parents Despair over Houthi Recruitment of their Children

Monday, 29 July, 2019 - 05:30
Houthis are stepping up their recruitment of children. (AFP)

“Umm Suleiman” recounted her deep sorrow over the disappearance of his son, Suleiman, 20, in mysterious circumstances in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, which is controlled by the Iran-backed Houthi militias.

She told Asharq Al-Awsat that he left the house around a week ago to attend a friend’s wedding in a nearby neighborhood in Sanaa and has not returned since.

“We do not know where he went. We have searched everywhere for him,” she said.

Her case is now a familiar story in Yemen. Hundreds of mothers have been left in despair over the fate of their children, who are often kidnapped by the Houthis.

Official figures revealed by Yemen’s Human Rights Minister Dr. Mohammed Askar showed that since their coup against the legitimate authority, the Houthis have kidnapped over 30,000 children to recruit for their war effort.

Suleiman’s father told Asharq Al-Awsat of his family’s suffering at the loss of their son. Despair forced him to seek out a Houthi “overseer” in his neighborhood.

He revealed to him that Suleiman had enrolled in a Houthi “cultural course,” which is often used by the militias to brainwash susceptible youth.

Suleiman’s father was outraged over the official’s nonchalant tone and infuriated further when he did not disclose to him his son’s whereabouts or when he would return to his parents.

“Most worrying of all is that several acquaintances asserted to me that once my son completes his course, he will likely be forced to head to the battlefronts to apply what he learned. He would either return to us dead or alive” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“Who will listen to my problems? Who will bring us justice for such criminals?” he wondered.

An activist confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the Houthis have stepped up their recruitment of children in Sanaa in recent months in flagrant violation of children’s rights and international agreements and norms.

Not a day passes by without learning about the abduction of one to four children from various districts of Sanaa, he revealed. The al-Snayniya neighborhood alone witnessed some six kidnappings in two weeks and 200 since February.

The Houthis often target their prey through the WhatsApp messaging app. Youths aged between 15 and 25 are often the target given how easy they are to manipulate and brainwash to their extremist ideology.

The threat of recruitment has forced some families to send their children away from Sanaa or abroad.

One resident revealed that he had to send his son, 19, to live with his relatives in Jordan to escape Houthi youths who had tried to recruit him. Another sold all of her valuables in order to send her son to the Hadramawt region to work with his uncle at a restaurant.

In the four years since the Houthi coup, hundreds of children have been killed in battle after they were recruited by the militias. Hundreds of others have been imprisoned. Those who escape Houthi clutches are placed in rehabilitation centers to tackle the trauma of war and rid them of their extremist ideology.

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