Yemen's Children's Rights Crisis is Teetering on the Edge of An Outright Catastrophe
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Children’s Rights in Yemen Are Teetering on the Edge of A Catastrophe

What is Happening in Yemen?

As the world focuses on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Yemen’s children’s rights crisis is teetering on the edge of an outright catastrophe.

The war in Yemen is entering its eighth year since the conflict escalated in March 2015. Yemen’s civil war started when Houthi insurgents took control of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, demanding lower fuel prices and a new government.

In January 2022, one civilian died every hour in Yemen, setting a record for the deadliest month of conflict since 2018. In addition, UNICEF estimated that 70% of the population requires humanitarian assistance. Moreover, there are 4 million people internally displaced, of which 2 million are children. Yemen is very youthful, with 40% of its population under fourteen. As the war intensifies, millions of children are denied their fundamental human rights.

How is this War Affecting Children’s Rights?

In recent weeks humanitarian organizations have faced unprecedented funding shortages, which has hindered their ability to deliver aid and life-saving services to local civilians. The Yemeni people have minimal access to fundamental rights such as food, clean water, shelter and health care services.

1. Hunger & Health Crises Reach a Critical State

According to a recent IPC report, there is an appalling hunger crisis in Yemen which has recently reached its most critical state. There are 2.2 million children acutely malnourished and half a million children facing severe acute malnutrition. According to UN officials, 19 million Yemenis are on the brink of hunger unless sufficient funding is raised. There are more than eight million children on the verge of famine, and up to 13 million children urgently in need of immediate healthcare.

Furthermore, recent data indicate that the number of people experiencing catastrophic hunger levels is expected to increase from 31,000 to a shocking 161,000 during the second half of 2022.

“These harrowing figures confirm that we are on a countdown to catastrophe in Yemen and we are almost out of time to avoid it. Unless we receive substantial new funding immediately, mass starvation and famine will follow. But if we act now, there is still a chance to avert imminent disaster and save millions.”

World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley.

2. Families Recieve Half the WFP Daily Minimum Food Supply

In 2022, many households only received half of the WFP standard daily minimum food supply. Consequently, the war has caused food prices to rise to unaffordable levels for civilians. The Ukrainian war is causing import shocks resulting in food prices further increasing. An estimated 30% of Yemen’s wheat supply comes from Ukraine, meaning they depend highly on their market.

The COVID-19 pandemic also increased pressure on the fragile health care system. As a result, the pandemic exacerbated the underlying protection and gender-related vulnerabilities of women and children. Recently, Save the Children noted that thousands of children in Yemen are on the verge of losing access to life-saving healthcare. The country faces the largest fuel crisis since the start of the conflict in 2014, exacerbating this crisis.

3. Children Killed and Recruited to Armed Conflict

As the violence in Yemen intensifies, children are the first and most to suffer. Consequently, in the first two months of 2022, 47 children were killed or injured in Yemen. UN officials’ held that conflict escalated between government forces and the Houthi rebels. Since the start of the war, UNICEF reported 10,200 children killed or injured.

Also Read: Yemen: an entire generation at the brink of falling prey to acute malnutrition.

The UN Security Council reported that in “one camp, children as young as seven years of age were taught to clean weapons and evade rockets”.

Source: AJ+ shared images on their Twitter page reflecting the children’s rights crisis in Yemen.

Human rights front line watchers have repeatedly reported recruiting children into armed conflict by the Houthi rebels. Since 2014, 10,300 children were recruited to rebel ranks. In 2020, the UN’s Yemen Panel of Experts noted 1,406 children recruited had died. The UN experts report stated that 562 children died fighting between January and May 2021.

4. Children’s Rights Compromised Due To Very Limited Access to Education

The United Nations has warned that the war in Yemen has left an estimated 8.1 million children in need of educational support. The children in Yemen must have access to safe learning spaces. Education has the potential to save lives and sow the seeds for a more peaceful future within the country. Furthermore, uneducated children trap themselves in a self-perpetuating cycle of poverty.

Limited access to education has profound cognitive and emotional developmental disruptions for Yemen’s 10 million school-age children. The educational infrastructure in the country is severely damaged, with reports of over 2,500 schools destroyed by war. There are currently more than 2 million children out of school. For approximately four years, two-thirds of the school teachers in Yemen are not receiving a regular salary.

The Need for Collective and Meaningful Action in Yemen for Children’s Rights

Yemen is a regional proxy war which has killed more than 150,000 people. Children are vulnerable to hunger, disease, exploitation, child labour, domestic and gender-based violence, child marriage and psychosocial distress. UNICEF recently reported that this war resulted in the most significant global humanitarian crisis.

Angelina Jolie, who works closely as an ambassador to the UNHCR, visited Yemen in March 2022. Jolie drew parallels between refugees in Yemen and those suffering from the war in Ukraine. She stated, “as we continue to watch the horrors unfolding in Ukraine and call for an immediate end to the conflict and humanitarian access, I’m here in Yemen to support people who also desperately need peace”.

The UNHCR Calls For Safe Passage of Civilians

The UNHCR calls for all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and the safe passage for civilians fleeing conflicted areas. Furthermore, humanitarian organizations and workers must have full access to the country to deliver aid. The UNHCR calls for a peace agreement to help find a solution to ending the war. An important lesson from the Ukrainian war is that we cannot be selective about whose rights we choose to defend. The lives of refugees fleeing persecution everywhere are of equal importance.

Everyone deserves the same kindness and support. We must help all those suffering through the horrors of war.

Laura Shorten
Laura Shorten is an Irish human rights consultant and researcher based in the Netherlands. Laura qualified with an International Bachelor of Social Sciences degree from University College Dublin. She majored in politics, international relations and social policy. Laura graduated from Technological University Dublin with a Postgraduate Diploma in Law. In 2021, she graduated with an Advanced LL.M in International Children’s Rights at Leiden University. Laura specializes in international law, children’s human rights, political science, international relations, middle eastern studies, refugee/migration law, gender studies, strategic litigation and global diplomacy. Laura has published various articles pertaining to international law and human rights violations occuring worldwide. Laura defended her Advanced Master’s Thesis entitled “An Analysis of the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s Legal Framework in Protecting Children’s Right to Health and Right to Life in the Face of Climate Change”. This thesis is published on the Leiden University website under the Advanced Master of Law Theses for children's rights. Laura has previously worked for UNICEF Ireland, campaigning for children worldwide who are facing discrimination and living in war zones.