Yemen: Endless suffering of children continues due to war, aid crisis

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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Yemen: Endless suffering of children after 7 years of brutal armed conflict & massive humanitarian crisis

Report of the UN Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in Yemen

27 September 2021. The Yemen conflict killed or maimed 2,600 children as hostilities intensified in 2019 and 2020; that’s according to a new report of the UN Secretary-General on Children and Armed conflict in the country.

More than 3,500 children were victims of one or more grave violations in Yemen between 1 January 2019 and 31 December 2020, highlights the third report of the UN Secretary-General on Children and Armed conflict in Yemen. The denial of humanitarian access, killing and maiming, and the recruitment and use of children were the most prevalent of the 8,526 grave violations against children.

The staggering rise in incidents of denial of humanitarian access to children in the country (4,881) during the two-year period was, by far, the most verified violation against boys and girls. Two thousand six hundred (2,600) children were killed or maimed during the same period, mostly through the indiscriminate use of mortar and artillery shelling including in residential areas, ground fighting, anti-personal landmines, and other explosive remnants of war.

“The atrocities and immense suffering endured by children in Yemen are the results of an armed conflict that will invariably leave in its wake a generation of Yemeni children scarred for life. It is urgent for all parties to actively work towards a political solution to the conflict if they hope to save children from further harm. Boys and girls are the future of Yemen. Parties to the conflict must protect them from use and abuse and start treating children as the precious asset they are”, said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba.

The protracted conflict across Yemen, the intensification of hostilities in 2019 and 2020, the multiplication of active frontlines and armed groups and forces, compounded by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, has resulted in acute suffering for Yemeni children, their families, and their communities.

Grave violations against children in Yemen between 1 January 2019 and 31 December 2020

The verification of information for all grave violations by the United Nations on the ground was difficult. Aggravating factors in monitoring and reporting during 2019 and 2020 were due to security and access restrictions, including threats against and detention of monitors as well as fear of retaliation. The intensity of the conflict and hostilities also hindered the ability to document and verify violations. Lastly, the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions further exacerbated these existing access challenges.

The recruitment and use of 861 children were verified and often connected to other grave violations, in particular killing and maiming, with two-third of recruited children used in active combat. The Special Representative emphasized the need to address the root causes of recruitment, including poverty, unemployment and/or limited access to education and called on all relevant parties to immediately release all children from their ranks and prioritize their reintegration into their communities and to civilian life.

111 children held

Of great concern is also the deprivation of liberty of 111 children, held for alleged association with opposing parties to the conflict. The Special Representative reminds that children should be considered primarily as victims and that depriving them of their liberty should only be used as a last resort and for the shortest period, in accordance with international juvenile justice standards. She further calls on the international community to continue to support the reintegration of released children, including through the Global Coalition for Reintegration of Child Soldiers.

Attacks on education continued with 37 incidents of attacks on schools and the military use of 80 schools, further impairing the right of boys and girls to education with over two million children currently out of school in Yemen.

Hope Lies in Dialogue and Constructive Engagement

The report outlined the United Nations’ dialogue with parties to the conflict and the progress made by the Government of Yemen in the implementation of its action plan to end and prevent child recruitment and use of children, signed in 2014, and of the Roadmap adopted in 2018 which has led to a significant decrease for this violation. The report also provides an overview of the Special Representative’s engagement with the Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen within the framework of the Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen the protection of children in Yemen signed in March 2019 and its operational roadmap, noting the sustained decrease in violations attributed to this party. The report further informs of the ongoing dialogue with the Houthis (who call themselves Ansar Allah) for the purpose of signing a joint action plan to end and prevent all grave violations. The Special Representative encourages parties to continue and redouble their efforts to expedite the implementation of their ongoing commitments while she urges those who have not yet done so to secure their engagement through action plans.

The Special Representative echoes the UN Secretary-General’s call for a nationwide ceasefire by all parties to the conflict and to continue their engagement with the UN Special Envoy for Yemen towards the resumption of an inclusive political process to reach a comprehensive negotiated political settlement. Further, and until peace is secured, parties to the conflict must take all preventive and mitigating actions necessary to avoid and minimize harm and better protect children, including in the conduct of military operations, to swiftly investigate incidents, and to refrain from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

“Considering the rights and needs of children into the discussions will also be critical for sustainable peace and for the future of the country,” said Virginia Gamba, adding that the Practical Guidance for Mediators to Protect Children in Situations of Armed Conflict issued by her office is an important and available tool in this regard. “The terrible toll that the war in Yemen takes on children must end. Peace is the only solution and child survivors need our support to heal and rebuild their lives,” she emphasized.

(Source: UN Office of the SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict)

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