Seven years into a catastrophic war in Yemen, the Houthis have signed an action plan with the United Nations, pledging to end recruitment and use of children as soldiers, killing and maiming of children, and attacks against schools and hospitals. The pledge comes two weeks into a two-month ceasefire that many hope will lead to more formal peace talks.
During the war, the Houthis have committed massive violations against children. Houthi rockets, indiscriminate artillery attacks, and use of landmines have caused thousands of child casualties. The Houthis have attacked scores of schools and hospitals, used schools for military purposes, and blocked humanitarian assistance.
The Houthis have recruited thousands of children as soldiers and sent them into battle. One boy told Human Rights Watch that he was recruited at age 13 and shot in the chest while fighting the Yemeni army. Witnesses have reported seeing armed children as young as seven at checkpoints. The UN reported in January that between January 2020 and May 2021, nearly 2,000 children recruited by the Houthis died in battle.
The Houthis are not the only perpetrators of violations against Yemeni children. The Saudi and UAE-led coalition has carried out more than 25,000 airstrikes in Yemen. Many have been indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, destroying schools and hospitals and killing or injuring thousands of children. Pro-government Yemeni forces have also carried out indiscriminate missile strikes, deployed children into combat, and attacked schools and hospitals.
UN action plans have been a powerful tool to prompt warring parties to end violations against children. Since 2015, government armed forces and non-state armed groups have signed 38 such action plans. Twelve parties fully complied with their agreements and 20 plans remain under implementation.
Parties to the conflict in Yemen have a poor record of keeping such commitments, however. Houthi leaders pledged in 2012 to end use of child soldiers, as did the Yemeni government in 2014. In 2019, the Saudi and UAE-led coalition committed to protect children in a memorandum of understanding signed with the UN. Despite these promises, the UN verified 4,418 violations against children in Yemen in 2020. Only Somalia recorded more violations against children that year.
The new action plan signed by the Houthis is a positive step, but only implementation of this and previous pledges will make a difference for Yemen’s children.