The frontline in liberating child soldiers

The international war in Yemen comes after a surge in the recruitment of children by armed groups and the military. An end to the conflict must focus on renewing the UN's efforts to protect Yemen's teenagers from being pressed into battle.

AP Photo
A Yemeni boy holds a rifle at a tribal meeting near Sanaa, Yemen last August.

Just a year ago, Yemen was one of the few countries with a “children’s parliament,” an elected body of teenagers that advised the nation’s lawmakers. Its main concern: how to end the recruitment of children, by both the military and armed groups, to act as soldiers.

Fast forward to 2015 and Yemen’s government has collapsed. Its capital was taken over in February by rebel Houthi fighters backed by Iran. The country – already the poorest among Arab nations – is in chaos, awash in militias such as an Al Qaeda affiliate. Now an Arab foreign force, led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States, is expected to launch a ground invasion with the aim to restore the elected government.

According to the United Nations, the invading troops should not be surprised to find thousands of child soldiers. Last year, the recruitment of children by armed groups rose by nearly 50 percent as the Middle East nation descended into a proxy battlefield between Iran and Saudi Arabia. One Yemeni analyst told Al Jazeera that more than a third of Houthi fighters are under 18 years old.

This recruitment was made easier as the humanitarian crisis has worsened. Nearly two-thirds of Yemen’s 25 million people are in need of water, food, and other assistance, the UN estimates. Oxfam says Yemen is a “humanitarian crisis of extreme proportions.”

The surge in child soldiers is a setback for the UN. The world body has made progress in reducing the number of child soldiers worldwide. Last March it launched a “Children Not Soldiers” initiative with the goal to end recruitment of child soldiers by next year. Yemen was a major focus along with Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, Nigeria, Mali, and Central African Republic.

In some countries, the UN has found surprising receptivity among rebel groups to honor the innocence of children by not recruiting them or releasing their child soldiers.

“While the picture may often seem bleak, many non-state actors have shown some willingness and commitment to working with the UN to end violations and abuses committed against children by entering into action plans and committing to the protection of children in peace processes,” says Mark Lyall Grant, the UK Ambassador to the UN.

As the armed conflict in Yemen escalates, the world must focus on those most in need. The children of Yemen were engaged with a newly-won democracy just a year ago, with many of them active in their own parliament. The country has many needs but perhaps the greatest need is to protect the right of Yemen’s youngest to their peaceful innocence.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to