There is “Saeed,” 18, who told a reporter that “brave men become martyrs on the battlefields.” As a soldier, he said, he learned quickly because “my favorite subject at school was Islamic education” with its tales of Mohammed’s battles. “I do my best to imitate him.”
There is 13-year-old Younis, who was taught to use a machine gun as a child, according to a CNN profile, and Saleh who drove rocket launchers, also at 13. And 13-year-old Basheer fired Katyusha rockets at the “infidel enemy” – Yemen’s government forces who are backed by Saudi Arabia, the United States, France, and the UK.
All are or have been part of Yemen’s growing child armies, children recruited to fight on both sides of the city’s four-year-old civil war. The United Nations has reported child soldiers as young as 11. Many are sent by their parents, either for the high salaries soldiers receive, or hopes that the children will achieve martyrdom.
As the war there rages on, children are the most victimized. Besides the boys who become soldiers, there are the girls who are sold off as wives, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told a conference in Geneva last spring. “Nearly two-thirds of girls are married before 18, and many before 15.” In addition, food, water, and medication shortages mean that “every ten minutes, a child under five dies of preventable causes,” he said. The UN has declared Yemen “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”
The use of child soldiers is hardly unique to Yemen. A newly-released UN Security Council Report describes a “large increase” of recruitment of child soldiers in 2017 over 2016, primarily in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1,049), Somalia (2,127), and South Sudan (1,221).