Challenge lies in making child-soldier deal work - GulfToday

Challenge lies in making child-soldier deal work

Reports suggest children as young as seven have been recruited by the Houthis. AFP

Reports suggest children as young as seven have been recruited by the Houthis. AFP

The United Nations has announced that it has reached an agreement with the Houthi rebels in Yemen that the rebels will not use children as soldiers, nor recruit them for the purpose. The deplorable phenomenon of child soldiers has been quite rampant in some of the conflict zones, especially in Africa. The Houthis have deployed children as soldiers in the Arab region.

Of course, the important question is whether the Houthis will keep to their part of the agreement and move out children from their forces within six months. It is recognised that the implementation of the agreement is a greater challenge than that of signing it. Virginia Gamba, the UN official looking out for children in conflict zones, described the agreement, called “an action plan” as “a positive and encouraging step”, but the made the point that “the most difficult part of the journey starts now.” Gamba said in a statement in New York, “The action plan must be fully implemented and lead to tangible actions for the improvement of the protection of children in Yemen.” Abdul Elu Hajar signed the agreement from the Houthi side in Sanaa on Monday. The Houthis have described the agreement as a plan to protect children.

The UN says that 3, 500 children have been verified as deployed in the Yemen war, but according to admission of a Houthi military official in 2018, the rebels had recruited 18,000 child soldiers until then. And according to former child soldiers, children as young as 10 were recruited to fight the war. A Houthi military spokesman had denied that anyone below 18 was recruited and that there were even orders to reject children who want to join the fighting. Again, the UN says that 10,200 children have been killed in the war. There is then no clear data about child soldiers across the conflict zones. But there is evidence of child soldiers in many of the conflict zones in Africa. The efforts of the UN seem to be inadequate.

The issue of child soldiers can only be sorted out if national governments reject military aid to countries and groups deploying them. There has been a successful drive against child labour when many of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) campaigned against children working in hazardous industries like glass making, carpet-weaving in parts of India and elsewhere.

This has discouraged many of the entrepreneurs in these industries to move away from child workers so that they can secure export orders. A similar strategy would have to be adopted on the issue of child soldiers. But that would require sincere resolve on the part of national government to end the situation.

It will be noticed that it is only the rebel groups which tend to deploy child soldiers and not governments fighting the insurgents. The national armies with their recognised recruitment policies do not have place for children.

But the irregular armies of the insurgents, which fight their battles with fewer soldiers compared to established armies, that tend to force children into the war.

The rebel groups all over the world buy arms from official and unofficial sources. That is why, it requires strict coordination between national government and world bodies like the UN, along with NGOs, to check the practice of recruiting child soldiers. There is also the issue of children in conflict zones, deprived of the school and home, and sometimes even separated from their families.

But the question of child soldiers remains the most challenging issue, which needs to be addressed in a forceful way. The UN-Houthi agreement or action plan should be used as a stepping stone to prevent the deployment of child soldiers in other conflict zones as well.

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