A girl carries her sister at a camp for people displaced by the war near Sanaa, Yemen September 26, 2016 - Photo by Khaled Abdullah/Reuters A girl carries her sister at a camp for people displaced by the war near Sanaa, Yemen September 26, 2016 - Photo by Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

The Silent War that reaps Yemeni Children

Sun, Oct. 22, 2017
CAIRO – 22 October 2017: Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, said: “There never was a good war or a bad peace.” The whole world has become in need of such a maxim nowadays.

One of the poorest countries in the Arab World faces a very uncertain future, being torn apart by war silently with relatively little media attention. Yemen has been involved in a conflict since 2014, which threatens its nearly-collapsed health system.

Yemeni civilians may call the political conflict between the forces loyal to the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, which is backed by the Saudi-led coalition, and those allied to the Houthi rebel movement, as temporary.

The truth is that these 'temporary' conflicts is the reason some children have grown up seeing nothing but war and bloodshed, deadly cholera, and malnutrition; in addition to being forced to leave school to take part in the fight.

Reuters obtained a copy of a UN draft report blacklisting the following groups for violations against children: the Houthi rebels, Yemeni government forces, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

“All parties involved in Yemen’s war have failed to abide by international law. Children have paid the price,” said Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children.

The UN decided to pressure all sides taking part in the conflict to halt the bloodshed after more than two years of war, to no avail. Commenting on the draft report issued by the UN, Watkins said "being added to this shameful list should force parties involved in the Yemen war, and the supporting countries to stop these violations.”

Since a military intervention was launched on March 26, 2015 in Yemen with almost half of its population under the age of 15, an estimated 1,676 children were killed in Yemen, and 2,760 have been injured, according to UNICEF last July.

Cholera outbreak in Yemen (2016 – present)

Yemen, which is one of the most water-scarce countries in the Arab World, could be facing numerous water-borne diseases. However, it was unexpected that the country would face the worst cholera crisis in the world. Save the Children estimates that one child contracts cholera every minute and over 30 people die of the disease daily.

The outbreak of cholera in Yemen took place in 2016 as a direct consequence of the two-year heavy conflict, UN officials said. Save the Children warned that one million people will be infected with cholera in Yemen by the end of 2017 if current rates persist; 600,000 of which will be children.

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People collect drinking water from a public tap, amid a cholera outbreak, in Sanaa. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah Khaled Abdullah August 14, 2017 06:26am EDT

The link between cholera and malnutrition

Cholera is a disease that indicates poverty and water contamination and Yemen constitutes the ideal environment for it to flourish; creeping into refugees’ tents, seeking the easily accessible weak bodies of malnourished children.

Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s country director for Yemen, summarized the reasons why cholera spreads in Yemen fast, saying: it is due to the nearly collapsing healthcare system, the starvation of children, and people being unable to get the required medical treatment as the country is embroiled in a conflict.

According to Save the Children, malnourished children are three times more likely to die if they are infected with cholera due to their weak immunity. UN agency chiefs reported last July following a visit to Yemen that almost 2 million Yemeni children are suffering from acute malnutrition.

According to a statement from UNICEF's Executive Director Anthony Lake and WHO Director-General Margaret Chan last June, an estimated 14.5 million people are unable to regularly access clean water due to the collapsing water and sanitation systems caused by the war. In addition, the rate of malnutrition has been rising due to the blockade imposed on the country for political reasons that left people lacking the most basic needs. These conditions have created a suitable environment for the disease to spread.

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Saida Ahmad Baghili, 18, who has been affected by severe malnutrition, rests on a bed at the al-Thawra hospital in the Red Sea port... December 08, 2016 03:16pm EST. REUTERS

Children leaving school, displaced and recruited

The draft report outlined by the UN, which is supposed to be discussed and published by the end of this month, reported 38 attacks on schools and hospitals in 2016.

UNICEF has reported that 2 million children have left school due to the nearly collapsed national services, while 2.2 million civilians were reported displaced; half of them being children.

Children have been obligated to leave school for various purposes. The lack of livelihood and rising unemployment have forced parents to pull their kids out of school, sending them to fight or to be married, according to Meritxell Relano, the United Nations Children’s Fund representative in Yemen.

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Yemeni children take part in a gathering in Sana’a organised by Shiite Huthi rebels to mobilise more fighters to battle pro-government forces, June 2017. Photograph: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

It was found that some 1,800 Yemeni children, according to Relano, were recruited as soldiers to fight in Yemen.

Mental health difficulties

Numerous studies have been conducted showing that many children and young people living in wartime have developed mental health problems. A study undertaken in 2000 by Matthew Hodes, senior lecturer in child and adolescent psychiatry, claimed that up to 40 percent of young refugees may develop a psychiatric disorder, mainly depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety-related difficulties.

Accepting and adopting violence

In an article published in 2003, former British Member of Parliament (MP) David Willets said that children, adolescents and youth are responsible for most political and criminal violence worldwide, according to Jo Boyden, director of Young Lives.

Boyden added that children and adolescents are sometimes responsible for much greater atrocities than what adults are responsible for, according to a working paper entitled “Children, War and World Disorder in the 21st Century: a Review of the Theories and the Literature on Children's Contributions to Armed Violence,” published in 2006.

Explaining the huge number of children adopting violence, Lina Kurdahi Badr, professor of nursing in Azusa Pacific University, said that exposure to various sources of violence may desensitize children; causing them to imitate what they see and normalize it as a behavior.

Wrapping up the psychiatric influence of violence on children, a study was conducted by Asma Tarabah, Lina Badr and Jinan Usta in 2015 that has shown children may grow to become adults with warped moral reasoning, individuals who lack empathy, and may act indifferently to acts of violence; a matter which would result in a more violent society.
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