Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Houthi rebels and all other Yemeni armed groups to immediately stop recruiting children, including ‘volunteers’, and release all child soldiers in their ranks.
Since taking control of Yemen’s capital Sana’a in September 2014, the Houthis allegedly intensified their recruitment, training, and deployment of children as scouts, guards, runners, and fighters, in violation of international law.
Child soldiers are also being deployed by other Islamist and tribal militias, as well as armed groups, such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Unicef claims that children with the Houthis and other armed groups comprise up to a third of all fighters in Yemen, and at least 140 children were recruited by these groups between 26 March and 24 April alone.
HRW Children Rights Division special adviser Fred Abrahams said: "As fighting rages in Yemen, the Houthis have ramped up their recruitment of children.
"Commanders from the Houthis and other armed groups should stop using children or risk prosecution for war crimes."
Journalists covering unrest in Yemen in the recent months have reported seeing boys, aged between 14 and 16 years, with rifles and handguns fighting for Houthi forces and other armed groups.
HRW interviewed two activists, a Houthi recruiter, and seven boys in Amran governorate in March, and found that the children had volunteered to fight or perform other military tasks for the Houthis over the past year.
According to the recruiter, children without military training do not participate in active combat, but serve as guards or carry ammunition and food to front-line fighters, in addition to retrieving killed and wounded fighters and providing first aid.
The interviewees claimed that the Houthis initially give children ideological and Zaidi Shia Islamic training for at least a month, followed by military training at one of their bases across Yemen.
In 2014, the UN reported a total of 156 boys aged from nine to 17 years, were recruited and used in the armed conflict, with Houthis rebels using 140 to work at checkpoints and guard buildings.
Apart from Houthis, the Yemeni Government also recruited child soldiers, with a May 2014 report by the UN alleging that the national armed forces, including the now dismantled First Armoured Division has used children in its ranks.
Image: Child soldiers with Houthi rebel fighters hold weapons during a demonstration in Sana’a, Yemen. Photo: Copyright 2015 Reuters.