The number and threat of vulnerable children falling victim to the recruitment ploys of armed militant groups is steadily growing and continues to be an area of serious concern, according to a report by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
The increase in child soldier recruitment is a result of the steep rise in global violence in 2015 that has significantly increased war, violence and severe poverty throughout the Middle East and Africa.
The report states that the number of violent conflicts has nearly doubled over the last year. The increase in violence means children have been “forced to witness or take part in beheadings, immolations and summary executions.”
This is in addition to indoctrination, recruitment tactics and being forced into acting as suicide bombers or human shields while girls have been subjected to sexual slavery, abduction, rape and forced marriages, the report said.
The report also points to Yemen’s “widespread recruitment of children.” This comes after last year’s U.N. report highlighted that about 1/3 of the fighters involved in Yemen’s civil war are child soldiers; some as young as 6.
Rough estimates put the number of Iran-backed Houthi insurgent fighters in Yemen at between 20,000 and 30,000, of which 30 to 40 percent are under 18 and almost a quarter under 16, although given the difficulty in obtaining access and the dangerous security situation, it is nearly impossible for activists and rights groups to be exact on the number of children involved.
The children can earn up to $100 a month, lucrative pay in a land where the poor subsist on just $2 a day. They also get a warm meal, which according to activists is enough of a draw for many young boys to leave school and joined armed groups.
In return, they are positioned at checkpoints and embedded in areas newly seized by Houthi forces.
“The Houthis are wooing the children with food, because everyone is starving,” said Mohammad, an internal medicine physician from Taiz who asked to remain anonymous.
The UNICEF report provides five strategies to “prevent recruitment and use of children,” including universal birth registration, especially for the birth of refugee children, and investing in communities that are targets of child recruitment.