Dangers and Injuries
Instability, political unrest and conflict of different intensity, places children at high risk of being killed and maimed by mines, unexploded ordnance, explosive remnants of war, suicide attacks, improvised explosive devices and crossfire between the military and armed groups. Between July 2011 and March 2013, there was a high number of child casualties of more than 500 children killed or injured in incidents due to or related to the conflict. There are reports indicating that, during the 2011 civil unrest, children also died as a result of inhaling tear gas.4
In 2014, 74 children have been killed and 244 children have been injured due to the conflict.5
Physical violence and other harmful practices
Domestic violence: 95% of all Yemeni boys and girls aged 2 to 14 experience violent discipline, be it psychological aggression or physical punishment. Corporal punishment continues to be widely used within the family, in alternative care settings and as a sentence for a crime. Domestic violence against children is widely associated with the assumption that parents have the right to physically punish their children as a form of discipline, which could lead to their death or to disabilities. There is no legislative framework on domestic violence.6
FGM/C: the 2014 Child Rights Bill includes criminalizing the practice with penalties of between one and three years in prison and a fine of up to $4,644 for those who carry out the cutting. With the recent turmoil, the law remains pending.7 15% of girls 0–14 years old have undergone FGM/C (as reported by their mothers), while 41% of women 15 – 49 years old who know about FGM/C think the practice should continue.8 97% of FGM/C occurs in the home, and 73% takes place before the infant girl is one month old.9
Early marriage: child marriage of girls is widespread. 13% of girls under 18 are married, and nearly half of women between 20 and 49 were married before their 18th birthday.10 Families believe that marrying their daughters at a young age will preserve the family’s “honor”. Girls as young as 8 years have been given into marriage, particularly in rural areas, and reports show that girls had been forcibly married to members of the Ansar al-Sharia armed group in conflict-affected areas.11
There is no legal minimum age for girls to marry in Yemen and the only legal protection for girls is a prohibition on sexual intercourse until the age of puberty.12 Possible reasons for child marriage are:
poor families view girls as a financial burden, prompting them to marry them off to alleviate that weight.
some families see their daughters as an economic asset because of the payment of a dowry, in the form of money or gifts offered to the bride by the groom prior to marriage.
marriage can also be regarded by the family as a means of protecting girls from pre-marital sex, which would undermine family honor.
sometimes girls themselves see marriage as their only option, especially those who leave school at an early age.13
It is common for elderly Saudi men to marry much younger Yemeni women, many of them are underage girls. A phenomenon that is happening especially along the border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia. ‘Tourism marriage’ had been very common in Yemen over the recent years, whereby Saudi men in their forties and fifties would marry young women aged as young as 12 in return for money given to her family.14
A wide range of types of sexual violence can take place in different circumstances and settings, e.g. rape by known family or community members, rape by strangers or when recruited into armed groups, demanding sex in return for favors, sexual abuse of children with disabilities. Perpetrators are partners (in case of early marriage), family members, community members, security personnel or armed forces or armed groups.
In conflict settings, children are especially at risk of sexual violence due to the lack of rule of law, lack of information provided to them, their restricted power in decision-making and their level of dependence. Children are more easily exploited and coerced than adults. Forced marriage, rape and sexual slavery by armed actors has been documented in the 2013 Secretary General’s report: parties to a conflict forcibly abduct women and girls, take them as wives and then rape and use them as sex slaves. Up to 100 girls in Abyan have been forcibly married to leaders or members of the armed groups. A bride price as high as $5,000 is paid to the girls’ families, whose average monthly income is about $20-25. In other cases, girls were offered as a token of appreciation by their brothers who had been allowed to join the armed groups. Many girls have been impregnated following their marriage. The girls and their families are reluctant to report the abuses for fear of reprisal by members of the armed groups present in Abyan, among other reasons.15
In 2014, there was continuous recruitment and use of children in hostilities by the Ansar al-Sharia armed group. There were reported instances of boys being recruited so they can be sexual exploited and abused, and cases of sexual violence, including rape, against girls who have been forced into marriage with members of Ansar al-Sharia.16
Yemen has no sexual violence action plan and the discriminatory legal environment leads to vulnerability to legal sexual exploitation and assault, to which Yemeni girls remain extremely vulnerable.17
Migrant women and girls are increasingly aware of the risks of being raped in transit through Yemen and that rape is now the norm rather than an occasional sexual assault; as a response women are having contraceptive implants prior to making the journey.18
Psychosocial distress and mental disorders
The conflict and Yemen’s high rate of possession of weapons expose many children and adolescents to stresses and anxieties that may develop into durable mental health conditions. Drone strikes can also have severe negative psychological impact on children.
A range of severe disorders are likely to exist – psychosis, severe depression and anxiety disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder – but the absence of trained mental health professionals and the existence of only one rehabilitation hospital in Yemen results in very little knowledge of the situation. Skilled services are limited.19
In 2011, there were less than 0.21 psychiatrists and 0.13 psychiatric nurses per 100,000 population.20 There were 0.9 psychologists and 0.09 social workers per 100,000.
Yemen has a national mental health strategy for 2011-2015.21 Previously, mental health disorders were described as placed in a context with close connections to myth, superstition, witchcraft, jinns, and devils. Accordingly, there is a social stigma associated with mental health issues and by extension psychology that will likely continue for some time.22
Children associated with armed forces and groups
Over the recent years, all parties to the conflict have a long record of using child soldiers. The problem is exacerbated by poverty - as families enlist their children in the armed forces for financial reasons - and by the belief that the bearing of arms, including by children, is linked to masculinity and tribal honor. Families expect teenage boys to engage in tribal conflicts.23
From 2013 to 2014, there was a significant increase of recruitment and use of children, with a total of 156 boys recruited and used between the ages of 9 and 17. The majority (140) of cases were perpetrated by Ansar Allah with a highly visible presence. There were armed children manning checkpoints, being present on armed vehicles and guarding buildings.24
The Child Rights Bill of May 2014 (pending) addresses the recruitment of child soldiers, prohibiting the use or recruitment of child soldiers, imposing a fine of up to $1,393. Previously, Yemen had also signed an action plan with the UN to end and prevent child recruitment.25 The draft constitution of January 2015 includes the prohibition of voluntary recruitment of all persons under 18. A draft action plan to end the recruitment and use of children by Ansar Allah was endorsed by their Human Rights and Civil Society Office. Since the intensification of violence in 2015 all actions plans are on hold.26
Pro-government tribal militias and armed groups are also directly involved in and rely on the recruitment and use of children in hostilities. In 2011, children represented approximately 15% of the recruits of the pro-government tribal militias. Those recruits included girls who were used to gather intelligence, cook or carry detonators.27
The armed forces’ recruitment procedures are not standardized and are often at the discretion of individual unit commanders. The commanders do not always attempt to verify the ages of new recruits as they may receive material incentives, such as equipment, according to the number of soldiers in their units. The age verification process is ineffective and is exacerbated by the very low level of birth registration and the forgery of birth certificates.
Regarding demobilization and reintegration of child soldiers, at earlier instances, released children had been held in prison to prevent them from being recruited again at the request of their parents.28
Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM): formally started in Yemen when two parties were listed in the annexes to the Secretary-General’s annual report in 2011. In June 2013, the Secretary-General issued a report on children and armed conflict in Yemen, with attention to each of the areas of grave violations, covering the period July 2011 to March 2013.29
Children in Yemen are engaged in child labor in the agriculture sector and in the worst forms of child labor as child soldiers. While the primary school net enrolment ratio is 76.4% (2008-2011), 21% of boys and 24% girls aged 5 - 14 years old are involved in child labor.30 83% of child labor is unpaid (97% girls, 70% boys).31
Children working in agriculture are exposed to hazardous conditions and activities, including the use of pesticides, prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures, the use of heavy equipment, and carrying heavy loads. Children also work under hazardous conditions as street vendors, iron workers, beggars, and domestic servants, and in the fishing, leather, construction, textile, and automobile repair sectors. The Child Rights Bill of May 2014 (pending) addresses child labor.
Yemen is a country of origin and, to a lesser extent, a transit and destination country children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Some Yemeni children, mostly boys, migrate to the cities of Aden and Sana’a, or travel across the northern border to Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, to Oman, where they are forced to work in domestic service, small shops, or as beggars. Some are forced into prostitution by traffickers, border patrols, other security officials, and their employers once they arrive in Saudi Arabia; some are forced to smuggle drugs into Saudi Arabia.
Reports indicate that due to the dire economic situation, sex trafficking of Yemeni children increased during 2012 and 2013.32 Girls are subjected to sex trafficking within Yemen and in Saudi Arabia. Girls as young as 15 are exploited for commercial sex in hotels and clubs in the governorates of Sana’a, Aden, and Taiz. The majority of child sex tourists in Yemen are from Saudi Arabia. Some Saudi men use ‘temporary marriages’ for the purpose of sexually exploiting girls - some as young as 10; some children are subjected to sex trafficking or abandoned on the streets of Saudi Arabia.
The practice of chattel slavery continues in Yemen. While no statistics exist detailing this practice, sources report that there could be 300 to 500 men, women, and children sold or inherited as slaves.33 There are also cases of the sale of children for the purpose of transfer of organs for profit.34
Unaccompanied and separated children
From 2014 until the beginning of 2015, nearly 1,000 Yemeni children are known to have travelled alone to Saudi Arabia in search of income. Most (767) of these children reached the country but were subsequently expelled. Some were found at the border crossings either by law enforcement and immigration authorities (165) or found wandering alone in the northern border town of Haradh (9). An increased number of children were deported from Saudi Arabia via Al Boqaa land port (193) and Alb land port (454), both in Sa’ada at the border with Saudi Arabia.
Another example for the many unaccompanied Yemeni minors trying to reach Saudi Arabia, are 71 returnees who crossed the Red Sea late 2014 and became stranded while trying to reach Saudi Arabia. They spent between 2-3 months in Yemeni detention before IOM arranged their return.35
Every year, an estimated 15,000 children try to escape poverty and drought in the Horn of Africa and undertake the hazardous journey across the Gulf of Aden with the help of human smugglers to reach the Yemeni shores. Many of these children are Ethiopian, often unaccompanied, the majority of whom end up in the hands of human traffickers and experience terrible ordeals and human rights abuses at all stages of the journey. Most children from the Horn of Africa, including the detained children, are not interested in gaining refugee status, but prefer to return to their families in their country of origin.36 Children on the move, particularly those who are unaccompanied, come from poor backgrounds with little or no education and are burdened with helping their families to survive.
Justice for children
The justice system is understood to include the courts, police and correctional facilities, as well as informal systems such as those working under traditional and customary law.
The Yemeni criminal justice system is not fully child sensitive. There is no consistent, unified definition of the age of the child in national legislation. Children are referred to as persons below the age of 15; and the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 7. The justice system has poor implementation of child friendly procedures, measures that guarantee fair trials, and child sensitive approaches. This is due to the weak capacity of law enforcement bodies and their lack of awareness of the rights of children in conflict with the law. It is also related to a poor government budget and a very low allocation of resources to this sector.37
Despite national legislation prohibiting the death penalty for those below 18, courts are still sentencing under 18s to death. There is great doubt that juveniles sentenced to death had the right to a fair trial including legal representation. The methods used to determine age lack transparency and impartiality. Proving one's age is a huge issue due to very low level of birth registration (17%).38
The failure to comply with international standards leaves hundreds of children vulnerable and victims to unfair trials and treatment. Children aged 15 - 18 are tried in ordinary courts instead of juvenile courts and are usually kept in prisons with adults. Between 2006 and 2010, 14 children were executed. As of 2011, 11 children were on death row.39 By 2014, 33 cases of children had been sentenced to the death penalty. Children in conflict with the law are at high risk, in particular more than 150 children at risk of being sentenced to death.40
Among the continuing shortcomings of the justice system is the arbitrary detention of children: a number of demonstrators were arbitrarily detained during the 2011 uprising and were released later without any charges or due legal process. Also during the 2011 uprising, children have reportedly been subjected to the same extreme violence as many adults, including killings, injury, suffocation from gas, torture and/or arbitrary detention.41