The United Nations announced on Monday that the Iranian-backed Houthi group has signed an “action plan” with the international organization to stop the recruitment of children, who have fought by the thousands during the country's seven years of civil war.
The UN says nearly 3,500 children have been verified as recruited and deployed in Yemen's civil war, but the number of child soldiers drafted by Houthis could be much larger.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that more than two weeks after reaching a truce, the Houthi group signed a plan of action with the UN to “protect children and prevent grave violations against them in the context of the armed conflict.”
The action plan completely bans the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, including in support roles.
Dujarric said the Houthis committed to identifying children in their ranks and releasing them within six months.
It is noteworthy that the Yemeni internationally recognized government has made similar pledges in documents signed since 2014.
The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, David Gressly saw the plan as “a step in the right direction toward protecting Yemen’s children.”
“The UN is committed to children’s welfare and helping the Sanaa authorities and forces they control turn the plan into action starting now,” he said.
Virginia Gamba, the UN's top official looking out for children in war zones, called the Houthis' move “a positive and encouraging step,” but she noted that “the most difficult part of the journey starts now.”
“The action plan must be fully implemented and lead to tangible actions for the improvement of the protection of children in Yemen,” Gamba, who signed in New York as a witness to the Houthis’ commitment, said in a statement.
According to the action plan, Houthis would work in close cooperation with the UN task force on monitoring and reporting on grave violations against children in Yemen, and in cooperation with relevant United Nations agencies and departments, and international and local civil society partners.
The plan has opened the door to addressing Yemen’s urgent humanitarian and economic needs while also creating a genuine opportunity to restart Yemen’s political process.
Gamba called on all parties to the conflict to use the opportunity of the current truce to include child protection provisions in ongoing peace negotiations.
She reiterated the availability of the UN to support the Houthis and other Yemeni parties in measures reinforcing the protection of children from the ravages of hostilities.
“Ultimately, obtaining lasting peace is the best way to protect children in Yemen and should be the first objective of all parties to the conflict in the country,” the senior UN official emphasized.
At the same time, UNICEF Representative Philippe Duamelle described the signing as “an important milestone” for Yemen’s children “whose lives have been so horrifically affected by the conflict.
“We look forward to the full implementation of the Action Plan and to continue working with all parties for the protection and wellbeing of children in Yemen,” Duamelle added.