Today is Giving Tuesday. Support independent journalism by making a regular contribution to The New Humanitarian.

  1. Home
  2. Middle East and North Africa
  3. Yemen

Children hit hardest by northern conflict

Chidren studying in a tent in Mazraq IDP camp in Hajjah Governorate. Only 3 percent of children in Saada have access to education
(Adel Yahya/IRIN)

Hundreds of children have either been killed or used as child soldiers in fighting between Yemeni government forces and Houthi-led Shia rebels in the north of the country since August 2009, according to a new report by Seyaj Organization for Child Protection (SOCP), a local child rights NGO.

The 22 February report said some 89,000 children were forced to flee their homes with their families, whilst "187 children were killed, 402 exploited as soldiers by Houthis, and another 282 recruited by pro-government local militias."

The findings are based on an SOCP survey in December 2009 - with support from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) - of children in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Hajja, Saada and Amran governorates, as well as in some of Saada's conflict-ridden districts: Saada city, Razeh, Alb, Baqem, Ghamr and Qataber.

According to the report, 42 percent of children in camps (estimated at 35,000) are affected by malnutrition, 19 percent have diarrhoea, 25 percent have respiratory infections, and 3 percent malaria.

SOCP conducted interviews with 684 former child soldiers and collected information on a total of 73,926 children for the survey.

Aid agencies say more than 70 percent of the estimated 250,000 people displaced by the conflict since 2004 live outside IDP camps, with children making up over half of the displaced population.

On 11 February the two sides agreed on a ceasefire, which is fragile, with reports of sporadic clashes.

Ammar is one of thousands of children taking shelter in Mazraq IDP camp in Hajjah Governorate

Adel Yahya/IRIN
Ammar is one of thousands of children taking shelter in Mazraq IDP camp in Hajjah Governorate
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Children hit hardest by northern conflict
Ammar is one of thousands of children taking shelter in Mazraq IDP camp in Hajjah Governorate

Photo: Adel Yahya/IRIN
Ammar is one of thousands of children living in Mazraq IDP camp

The SOCP report said 383,332 children in Saada (about 97 percent of the governorate's school-age children) had been unable to go to school in this period.

Displacement, insecurity, and the destruction of schools, or their utilization for military operations, were the main reasons, Ahmad al-Qurashi, head of SOCP, told IRIN.

Of the 701 schools in Saada Governorate, 17 were destroyed in the fighting and another16 had been taken over by one or other of the warring parties. Most of the remaining schools were deserted, he said.

Child soldiers

"The number of children exploited as soldiers could be much higher than the figure indicated by the report because we had difficulty detecting who is still under 18 due to lack of birth documents," SOCP lead researcher Fahd al-Sabri told IRIN. He said only 8 percent Yemeni citizens have birth certificates.

"The number of children killed during the fighting could also be much higher than the figure in the report because many areas hit by fighter jets of the Saudi and Yemeni armies remained inaccessible," al-Sabri said.

Since August 2009, aid agencies have had difficulty getting comprehensive information about the war’s impact on children, according to UNICEF child protection specialist George Abu al-Zulof, but, he told IRIN, most of the laws regarding child rights appeared not to have been respected during the fighting.

We urge parties to the conflict to release child soldiers so they can get back to school, Abu al-Zulof said, and he called for "an impartial investigation" into the impact of the war on children.

SOCP chairperson al-Qurashi urged Yemen to update Child Rights Law No. 45 of 2002 to make provision for clear penalties against individuals who exploit children in armed conflict.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

Share this article
Join the discussion

Dear reader,

Today is Giving Tuesday. It’s a day when people around the world will be doing something to support the good causes they care about. As a reader of The New Humanitarian, we know that you care about quality independent journalism.

Climate change, migration, forced displacement, disasters, conflict, COVID-19, and more – the issues we report on have global significance, and there’s never been a more important time for our mission: putting quality, independent journalism at the service of the millions of people affected by humanitarian crises around the world.

The way aid is delivered is evolving, and we’re right there with it. We’re going to continue reporting on the future of aid, as it happens. You read it in our reporting. You listen to it on our podcasts. You watch it in our videos. Help us do more by making a regular contribution to our work and becoming a member of The New Humanitarian.

Thank you. 


Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.