The unspoken exploitation of children in Yemen; trafficking and child soldering

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SHAFAQNA – If the United Nations and all well-thinking Western nations have made a point at ferociously denouncing child soldering and other grave child rights violations over the years, they have nevertheless allowed for their political allies, mainly Saudi Arabia – through its many proxies, to dabble in such crimes without ever fearing repercussions.

A kingdom made immune to all criticism for its leaders hold the strings to great many purses, Saudi Arabia has once again proved to be a patron for all things despicable, and morally reprehensible – still, it is at others it is pointing a disapproving fingers at.

Yemen, you might have guessed it stands once more in the eye of the storm – this time over the issue of child soldering.

Over the past few weeks several media have looked at Yemen, alleging that the Resistance movement, headed by the Houthis, has launched a grand underage recruiting campaign in order to find arms to carry its guns … And though the message has so far remained veiled in semi-polite political chatter, the intent behind such momentum is evident: further de-humanizing, and vilifying Yemen’s popular forces against Saudi Arabia’s military campaign.

Since Saudi Arabia has proven unable to break Yemen’s resolve militarily – even to the tune of one inhumane humanitarian blockade and ferocious air bombing campaign, the kingdom is looking now to discredit Yemen by projecting its crimes onto the impoverished nation. A sad excuse for a government Riyadh has resorted to slander, and hypocritical humanitarian grand-standing to better tarnish the image of a movement, which, quite frankly scares the living daylight out of al-Saud.

A corrupt theocracy, Saudi Arabia does not understand the essence of popular legitimacy … nor does it comprehend that Yemen is more than sold-out politicians whose loyalty remains tethered to their bank accounts. There are powers in Yemen which still sit above the fray – untouchable for they are anchored in national sovereignty – fuelled by popular will.

For all its military might, and the number of its political alliances Saudi Arabia super-coalition of power has failed to manifest any real victory. And though Yemen was broken into through the seaport of Aden, a Saudi-outpost at the southern tip of Arabia, one enclave means little before the will of an entire nation. If Yemen was breached, it has yet to be broken. Many greater empires have tried, and all have failed. It is likely Saudi Arabia will learn that history lesson the hard way.

Keen on playing the political card to rally waning support to its cause, the kingdom has relaunched the old debate of child soldering in the Yemen, alleging through various channels that the Houthis are trafficking children to their canons.

Only really it is its agents, and its patsies which have … In this eternal game of cat and mouse, in this grand media play Riyadh has starred in, it is always the unbearable “other” who has committed abdominal crimes, and never the righteous kingdom.

But there is no righteous kingdom, only a tyrannical dynasty which has stopped at nothing to see erect its house over the region. In its pursuit for power, and riches, Saudi Arabia will now burn and pillage its heart content, to then accuse its victims of its own unspeakable crimes.

In February 2016, the UNICEF asserted in a report that Yemen’s “children make up a third of Yemeni fighters.” According to its findings children as young as 14 years-old have been enrolled to fight, the victims of a system which has preyed on destitution and a misplaced sense of duty.

“Children sometimes volunteer to join the conflict,” said Anthony Nolan, a Unicef child protection specialist.”

“Driven by a lack of resources, or a desire to seek revenge for their families. Their recruitment threatens to prolong the conflict for generations to come,” he added.

Now, while the UNICEF admitted in its report that child soldering has occurred across the board, and is in no way symptomatic of the Resistance, it still presented the issue as being Houthi-like.

Here is what Julien Harneis, UNICEF’s representative in Yemen, told the Huffington Post this January: “In Yemeni culture, it’s considered that you come into manhood at the age of 14 or 15 years old, and part of being a man is taking up a weapon. Yemen has the second-highest amount of arms per capita after the United States, so there’s a very strong gun culture in Yemeni society … More children have been drawn into armed groups than was the case in the past … it is something we see more frequently with the Houthis.”

I marvel at the UN’s ability to pick and choose what crimes it will feel outrage over and which it will simply ignore. If Yemen’s unlawful humanitarian blockade and Riyadh’s genocidal campaign against Shia communities only ever resulted in a few whispers, false allegations of child soldering have echoed loud across media channels. The real question everyone should be asking of course is whose child soldering?

While I will not deny that thousands and maybe tens of thousands of children have had over the past year to carry a weapon when they should have been at school getting an education, blame should not fall on those communities which have had no choice but to see their children’s innocence sacrificed to the pyres of war.

Yemen’s children have been forced to carry weapons for they face a fight to the death with the House of Saud.

Hundreds of communities in the Highlands have suffered brutal air raids and ground assaults by mercenaries. And when all able men have gone to join the Resistance it is often women, children and the elderly who have been left to stand and protect whatever left is there to defend.

Can we in all honesty expect, let alone demand that self-defence be denied, when self-defence is all there is left?

And yes, children should not have to fight! Yes, children should be allowed to be children … Saudi Arabia robbed Yemen of that right. Yemenis should not be made to carry the burden of guilt.

But self-defence is not what the Unicef and other media have referred to … The Unicef clearly stipulated that the Houthis have enrolled under-age boys into its army so that it could oppose Saudi Arabia military coalition.

According to Houthi officials, reliable military sources and NGOs in Yemen such allegations are outright fabrications.

The Houthis have not employed children in their army! It is those in alliance with al-Saud who have. Those powers the West knows only too well since only a moment ago they were deemed political pariahs – the remnants of an era Western capitals wanted to see gone; the time of the infamous Muslim Brotherhood.

That old dragon has surfaced again with the appointment of General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar – the very man, who, under President Ali Abdullah Saleh massacred the Highlands to better reinvent Northern Yemen a Wahhabi outpost. Gen al-Ahmar was called to serve on Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s pretence government this February as Prime Minister and Vice-President. Surprise, surprise his anointment was confirmed by al-Saud Royals.

A high ranking leader of al-Islah party – an umbrella coalition of tribes and political factions, Gen. al-Ahmar was confirmed by Wikileaks as the mastermind behind former President Saleh’s failed assassination attack back in 2011.

But that’s not all, in April 2011 Human Rights Watch slammed the US government for supporting Gen. Al-Ahmar after it was established he liberally practiced child soldering. He then was the head of the 1St Armoured Division.

Salah Iryani, a former adviser to President Saleh explained in an interview this April how radical members of al-Islah have encouraged militias to recruit children for their suicide attacks – hoping children would look less conspicuous to Resistance fighters.

“Children in remote villages have been forcibly recruited by militias linked to al-Qaeda and al-Islah … it is difficult to tell the difference in between the two those days … children have been radicalised, children have bene abused and their families co-opted into a military complex for which human rights means nothing,” said Iryani.

But this is not all.

What the Unicef failed to talk about in its eagerness to de-legitimize the Resistance is that human traffickers have thrived in the south – in those very areas the Saudi-coalition is said to have gained control over.

Hundreds of children have already gone missing … sold to an industry which ekes a profit out of misery, destitution and helplessness.

Of course few will be those who dare push the issue forward since it would entail challenging Saudi Arabia.

By Catherine Shakdam – This article was published first in the American Herald Tribune

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