The last five years have seen devastating levels of violence against children in Yemen, highlights the second report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the Republic of Yemen covering the period between 1 April 2013 and 31 December 2018.
The report presents horrendous figures with a total of 11,779 grave violations against children committed by all parties to conflict in Yemen as verified by the United Nations, but the reality is likely harsher, as monitoring in Yemen has been an increasingly difficult task. Furthermore, in the last five years, parties to the conflict have shown a blatant disregard for their obligations under international laws and/or disregarded the need to timely put in place the measures to protect children which they had agreed to.
“Despite some positive measures adopted by parties to conflict to protect boys and girls from grave violations, the suffering of children in Yemen has worsened during the reporting period, becoming simply appalling,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Virginia Gamba. “It is critical that all parties to the conflict and those who can influence them prioritize peace and actively engage in the ongoing peace negotiations, making sure to put the protection of children at the core of the discussions. Since children are the most affected by conflict, peace is their best safeguard against grave violations. Ultimately, only peace can deter violations against children in Yemen.”
Throughout the reporting period, the conflict intensified exponentially; for example, between 2014 and 2015, there was a 650% increase in the number of children killed and maimed and a 500% increase in children recruited and used.
Overall, the killing and maiming of children remained the most prevalent violation with 7,508 children verified killed or maimed because of airstrikes, shelling, ground fighting, mines and unexploded ordnance or suicide attacks.
The recruitment and use of children in the reporting period remained high, with 3,034 children verified as recruited, the clear majority attributed to the Houthis (1,940). The Yemen government was also responsible for 274 cases of recruitment, mostly through a lack of livelihood opportunities and the lack of age verification mechanisms in place. An Action Plan between the UN and the Yemen Government exists since 2014 and a revitalized implementation road map has been put in place at the end of 2018.
Attacks on schools and hospitals remained high and most of the attacks (345 out of 381) led to the partial or complete destruction of the buildings. Of great concern is the verified military use of schools (258) which is higher than the number of schools attacked (244), preventing thousands of boys and girls to safe access to education over the reporting period.
Rape and other forms of sexual violence against boys and girls remained under-reported, mainly for fear of stigmatization and lack of appropriate response services, with only eleven incidents verified. The monitoring and verification of abduction of children was also limited during the reporting period, with 17 incidents verified by the United Nations.
Detention of children for their actual and alleged association with parties to conflict remained of great concern, with 340 boys verified deprived of liberty. The Special Representative reminds that the detention of children should only be used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible time, in accordance with international juvenile justice standards.
The denial of humanitarian access to children has sharply increased during the reporting period, with catastrophic consequences for civilians deprived of life-saving assistance. 828 incidents of denial of humanitarian access have been verified, adding to the severe economic decline facing the country at the brink of famine. 17.8 million people, half of which are children, do not have enough access to water; two million children are severely malnourished and struggling to survive.
“The recent developments in the peace process must lead to tangible progress on the ground. The civilian population, especially children, is kept hostage of a conflict they didn’t choose to be in. Parties to conflict must stop instrumentalizing the delivery of humanitarian assistance to population in need, as the country is facing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world,” Special Representative Gamba said.
The monitoring and verification of grave violations against children has been increasingly hampered by security and access restrictions. The Special Representative calls for unimpeded access to provide relief and protection to children in need, to monitor the situation of children and to support parties to conflict in preventing grave violations, including in the implementation of Action Plans and other measures to end grave violations against children.
The SRSG reminds all parties to conflict of their obligations under international laws and confirms her readiness to support their efforts to protect all children in Yemen. She welcomes the ongoing dialogue and roadmap with the Government of Yemen and the development of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and roadmap with the Coalition to support Legitimacy in Yemen on actions to better protect boys and girls. She urges the swift implementation of all measures to secure the protection of children in Yemen as well as the putting in place of processes and resources to ensure long-term assistance for the reintegration of children released.
“The children of Yemen had nothing to do with the start of this conflict, they should now be given the opportunity to exit from it and be assisted to fully recover: constructing peace and offering long term assistance for children and communities devastated by war is the only solution. The children of Yemen deserve better and their voices should be heard,” the Special Representative added.