Houthis Train Children As Soldiers

Under the guise of opening summer camps, the Iranian-backed militia spreads death and agony


At the end of each academic year, the Iranian-backed Houthi militia establishes thousands of what it calls “summer centers” in the occupied capital of Sanaa and other Yemeni governorates under its control. They use these centers to lure children under the age of 18 from their homes and classrooms, forcibly recruit them and mercilessly commit them to certain death on various battlefronts.

In 2021, a Houthi leader announced the enrollment of 620,000 children in those centers under the supervision of Iranian Quds Force officer Hassan Irlu (who appears on lists of international terrorists). By recruiting some of these children to fight, the Houthis hope to compensate for a severe shortage in insurgents. This manpower shortage is the largest since the start of the war triggered by the coup and resulted from broad military escalation on the Marib governorate front.

In fact, these summer centers are a facade for camps to train children — the largest such camps in human history. There the Houthis and their Iranian backers distort children’s national identity and brainwash their minds with a culture of death, hatred for “the other,” hostile slogans and sectarian indoctrination imported from Iran. Some will be thrown into the fire and returned to their families as pictures, body parts and empty boxes.

A Yemeni boy poses with a group of newly recruited Houthi fighters in Sanaa. The Iranian-backed militia is coercing children into combat in its continuing war against the Yemeni government. AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The slogan “Death to America” that the Houthi militia constantly teaches children will create a generation imbued with hatred and hostility that will soon turn into time bombs used by Iran to spread chaos in the region.

One should not downplay the use of this slogan. Those familiar with Iran’s militias keenly understand what this slogan signifies and what danger it portends. Many remember the emergence and formation of terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and ISIS, which methodically indoctrinated children using similar slogans to incite murder, destruction, violence and hatred. The world still grapples with the devastating consequences of those groups.

Since the summer centers opened, reports from the field and statements from Houthi media outlets confirmed a surge in the number of dead children who, lacking any combat experience, were plunged into suicide attacks on the Marib front. Many fear that a similar fate awaits thousands of other children enrolled in these centers.

The United Nations Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen has documented the Houthi militia’s recruitment of children as combatants. The group verified Houthi recruitment of children in all governorates under its control and cited reliable reports on the recruitment of girls for exploitation in security and intelligence missions.

In early 2021, a report by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor and the SAM for Rights and Liberties organization confirmed that the Houthis had recruited 10,300 children since 2014. The actual number of children recruited was likely much higher, since the Houthis opened 52 training camps for tens of thousands of children between the ages of 10 and 17. They did so by threatening families and luring children with money, in addition to recruiting children in displacement camps and orphanages. The report documented how the Houthis impose penalties on child soldiers, including deprivation of food, imprisonment, physical and sexual abuse, and death threats.

Perhaps the Houthi insistence on recruiting children, even as the international community calls for a peaceful end to a war that has devastated Yemen, is a means to turn thousands of children into tools for killing and spreading violence, chaos and terrorism in Yemen, the region and the world.

A 12-year-old former Houthi child soldier shelters at a displaced persons center in Marib after describing how the Iranian-backed militia enticed him with promises of a new school bag but instead ordered him to fight on the front lines. He managed to run away. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

This escalation will undoubtedly lead to an expansion of the war and threaten the social fabric, civil peace and values of coexistence among Yemenis for decades to come. It heralds the creation of a generation of ideological extremists who cannot be controlled and their recruitment into pointless battles to serve the Iranian expansionist project and its greed in the region.

I call on the international community, the United Nations and U.S. envoys to Yemen to consider the magnitude of the catastrophe that threatens the present and future of tens of thousands of children. These organizations must pressure the militia to end recruitment and use of children in hostilities as a flagrant and unprecedented violation of international laws and covenants.

I also call on the organizations concerned with human rights and child protection to assume their humanitarian and moral mandates to stop the genocide perpetrated by the Houthi militia against Yemeni children and to bring the perpetrators to trial as war criminals under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

We are sounding the alarm about the risks of turning thousands of Yemeni children into unpredictable and uncontrollable “ticking bombs” that could threaten regional and international peace and security. We cannot leave them hostage to a lethal and destructive militia that entrusted its decisions to Iran and proved that it does not understand the language of peace.  F

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