Third of fighters in Yemen are children, says Unicef

Apr 10, 2015 by

UN agency says at least 77 children have been killed in conflict since 26 March, and also warns of looming malnutrition crisis

Sana'a air strike
A woman carries a child away from the scene of an air strike in Sana’a. Photograph: Hani Mohammed/AP

Children make up a third of fighters in the armed groups in conflict-wracked Yemen, according to a UN official, who also issued a warning about malnutrition levels in the country.

“We are seeing children in battle, at checkpoints and unfortunately among [those] killed and injured,” Julien Harneis, Unicef’s representative in Yemen, said during a stop in Geneva.

He said staff of Unicef and its partners had estimated that around 30% of fighters in the armed groups were minors.

Saudi-led forces launched air strikes last month as Shia Houthi rebels advanced on Yemen’s main southern city of Aden after seizing the capital.

The president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, fled Aden for Saudi Arabia during the Houthi advance and the city has since seen heavy clashes between pro- and anti-government forces.

Even when they are not on the frontlines in the conflict, children are particularly vulnerable, Harneis said. Unicef has confirmed that at least 77 children have been killed and 44 others injured since 26 March, and Harneis said the true toll was likely to be far higher.

“There are children dying in bombings in the north … and by very intense battles in Aden and Daleh. All of the parties to the conflict are to blame,” he said.

In addition to the violence, already high malnutrition levels in Yemen are expected to soar. “We are going to see a spike in malnutrition in coming weeks. Unfortunately, that is something we are sure of,” Harneis said.

“Difficulties in accessing water, rising prices for supplies, the difficulty to move around the country … All of this combined with cuts in state-run services [means] we will again see … hikes in malnutrition.”

Malnutrition levels already stood at 48% last year, among the highest in the world, Harneis said.

He said the conflict would also lead to a decline in the number of children attending school in a country where one million school-aged children were already not receiving an education.

Unicef plans to send medical supplies, drinking water and hygiene products to the capital, Sana’a. If the agency manages to get the plane into the country, it would mark the first flight to Sana’a carrying aid supplies since the latest round of hostilities began.

Harneis said he was in Geneva to tell diplomats about what he and his colleagues were seeing on the ground, “in the hope the states will use this information to reduce the impact of the conflict on children”.

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