Reports by local and international organisations document a dramatic increase in the number of violations committed by warring parties, with children recruited as soldiers and engaging in military confrontations. Many children displaced from their homes have been forced to find work to support their families who lost breadwinners.
The conflict is costing the life of a Yemeni child under the age of five every nine minutes, according to a UNDP report in 2021. Assessing the Impact of War in Yemen: Pathways for Recovery cites cases of child trafficking and sexual exploitation that have increased as a result of a war that claimed 377,000 deaths by the end of last year.
“The atrocities and immense suffering endured by children in Yemen are the results of an armed conflict that will invariably leave in its wake a generation of Yemeni children scarred for life,” said the Special UN Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba.
A number of groups have since attempted to fill the gap left by collapsing social welfare structures in Yemen. Journalists for Safe Childhood (JSC) is a network of journalists reporting on child protection issues in Yemen.
“It is crucial to monitor and uncover various children’s issues and defend their rights,” said Mohammed Ismail, the JSC network supervisor. “Our goal is to establish a platform of trained journalists who can professionally and ethically report on this subject.”
Shedding Light on Abuse
The JSC, established in November 2020 by the Studies and Economic Media Center (SEMC) in partnership with UNICEF, provides training and support to journalists. For one of them, Shaimaa al-Qurashi, 21, JSC’s training came at just the right moment. Having just launched her career, she’s already determined to specialise in women’s and children’s rights.
“It was the first time I had such an opportunity,” she said. “The training focused on laying the foundations for reporting on child-specific issues, and everyone is open to sharing information.”
The JSC has more than 60 journalists onboard from 14 Yemeni governorates. The pandemic forced part of the extensive training online. Reporters benefit further from JSC’s WhatsApp channel, which provides them with ample networking opportunities and a chance to exchange perspectives from Yemen’s governorates.
Yemen’s children need an end to war.
The JSC reaches thousands through social media, where it shares the journalists’ reports. It also partners with 11 local media outlets, ensuring a wider reach for the 40 audio, video and print stories generated during the training programme. The subject matter included post-traumatic stress disorder in child victims of war, early marriage, and children with disabilities in Yemen.
JSC is seeking to deepen its partnership with local media by establishing a permanent platform on local websites for child-focused reporting. Ismail trusts that this is possible because of its solid foundation.
“Our network is strong,” he said. “We can address children’s issues with professionalism and sensitivity.”
In 2019 and 2020, according to the UN, the war killed or maimed 2,600 Yemeni children. This is part of a horrifying total documented by UNICEF, whose statistics suggest that four children were killed or injured in Yemen every day in a two-year period. They were victims of military confrontations and the indiscriminate use of weapons, anti-personnel mines, and other explosive devices.
The war’s toll on children includes 400,000 who suffer from severe malnutrition. More than two million youngsters are missing school; another four million are at risk of dropping out. Ongoing violence has internally displaced an estimated 1.7 million children. Of 15 million Yemenis with no access to safe drinking water, sanitation, or hygiene, more than half are children, says UNICEF.
There is a strong legal basis for Yemen to pay close attention to children’s welfare. Among the many accords the country has adopted is the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), an international charter, ratified in May 1991. It defines children’s civil, political, economic, and cultural rights, including their right to protection from violence, sexual abuse, and exploitation.