As the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen’s civil war enters a third year, creating a humanitarian tragedy of epic proportions, children are not just being robbed of their childhoods, they are also being deprived of any hope for a decent future.
According to a UNICEF report entitled Falling Through The Cracks: The Children of Yemen, there are nearly ten million children, that is 80% of all children in Yemen, who need humanitarian assistance. Since the civil war began in March 2015, over 1,546 children have been killed and more than 2,450 maimed. Close to half a million children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition, with UNICEF estimating that at least one child in Yemen dies from preventable causes like malnutrition or diarrhea, every ten minutes.
“Malnourished children across Yemen are teetering between life and death as the devastating conflict completes its second year. Cemeteries are filling up with small unmarked graves, the deaths of children unreported to authorities, their suffering invisible to the world,” the UNICEF report said.
According to UNICEF, children are also increasingly being recruited to fight in the conflict at a much younger age. In the past two years alone, at least 1,572 boys were recruited as child soldiers, an experience that takes a shattering physical and emotional toll on children.
UNICEF has found anecdotal evidence about a rise in child labor, as indebted families adopt any and all means to survive. Exacerbating this problem, around 350,000 children cannot receive an education, because schools have been damaged, destroyed, are being used to house displaced persons, or have been taken over by warring parties.
Young girls are facing an additional violation of their rights, with more than two thirds of girls reportedly being married off before the age of eighteen, compared to 50% before the conflict escalated.
As many experts have noted, Yemen is on the brink of a man-made famine. In an interview with Russia Today this week, Oxfam’s advisor on the Middle East, Richard Stanforth, said mass starvation is just a “few months away” for the people of Yemen.
Despite all this, appeals to the international community to “wake up to the crisis” and address the need for an immediate end to the conflict are falling on deaf ears. Coming on the heels of a U.S. raid on a Yemeni village that killed ten children under the age of thirteen, the Trump administration is weighing a major escalation in its military involvement in the conflict – a move likely to further prolong a multi-polar war in which a negotiated, peaceful solution seems very far off.
To prevent an entire generation of children from succumbing to starvation, trauma, and destitution, UNICEF is appealing for an immediate political solution to the war — one that prioritizes the rights of the child. It is time for the international community to heed this call, and put an end to a conflict that is only exacerbating a broader regional power struggle that is likely to play out for years to come.