Al Houthi child soldiers. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: The French foreign ministry condemned the use of child soldiers by Iran-backed Al Houthi militants in Yemen, a practice documented by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, on Wednesday.

In a press statement on the situation in Yemen and the use of child soldiers by Al Houthi militias, the French government urged parties to the conflict to abide by international law, which prohibits the use of children in armed conflicts.

France emphasised the urgent need to find a political solution to prevent further deterioration in Yemen’s security and humanitarian situation and combat terrorism, and reiterated its full support for the efforts of UN special envoy to Yemen, Esmail Ould Shaikh Ahmad.

Children make up a third of fighters in the armed groups in conflict-wracked Yemen, according to the UN.

The issue has plagued the country throughout various conflicts throughout the decades but has intensfied since the onset of the current conflict in 2015.

“We are seeing children in battle, at checkpoints and unfortunately among [those] killed and injured,” Julien Harneis, Unicef’s representative in Yemen, said at the time.

He said staff of Unicef and its partners had estimated that around 30 per cent of fighters in the armed groups were minors.

As the conflict has intensified, more and more children are being drawn into the battle.

An exact figure of how many boys are fighting in Yemen’s conflict is hard to come by. According to some estimates, boys younger than 18 form nearly a third of Al Houthi militants’ force approximately 25,000 fighters. Most are aged between 12-17 years.

The United Nations verified the recruitment of 106 children in 2013, some as young as six years of age. According to the UN, 32 children were seen manning Al Houthi checkpoints.

Hundreds of thousands of children are used as soldiers in armed conflicts around the world. Many children are abducted and beaten into submission, others join military groups to escape poverty, to defend their communities, out of a feeling of revenge, or for other reasons. In many conflicts children take direct part in combat. However, their role is not limited to fighting. Many girls and boys start out in support functions that also entail great risk and hardship.

One of the common tasks assigned to children is to serve as porters, often carrying heavy loads, including ammunition or injured soldiers. Some children act as lookouts, messengers, cooks or other routine duties. Girls are particularly vulnerable. They are often forced to serve as sexual slaves. Moreover, the use of children for acts of terror, including as suicide bombers, has emerged as a phenomenon of modern warfare.