Yemen: A live hell for children

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Yemen: A live hell for children

Sunday, 17 September 2023 | Chitrangada/ Yasudhara

Yemen: A live hell for children

War disrupts education and health services, exacerbating malnutrition. Regional powers’ involvement in Yemen war compounds the crisis. The international community’s inaction prolongs the suffering, leaving Yemeni children voiceless and powerless

The protracted and devastating conflict in Yemen, which has been going on since 2014, has receded from the international media’s attention, despite its profound toll on children, resulting in numerous lives lost and shattered.

Many children in Yemen are confronted with a bleak outlook for their future. What makes this situation especially heartbreaking is that a significant number of them were either born during the turmoil or have come of age amid a relentless backdrop of violence, marked by bloodshed and deep-seated animosity among their fellow countrymen.

According to a UNICEF report, Yemen’s armed conflict and humanitarian crisis has a severe impact on children. The report says 13 million children in Yemen need humanitarian assistance, 2 million are internally displaced and more than 1,0200 children have been killed or maimed.

The World Report 2023 released by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) says education and health services for children have been disrupted by damage to schools and hospitals caused by fighting.

With the war showing no signs of abating, their prospects for the future appear increasingly grim.

Before Covid-19 pandemic, the UN termed Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Then some 80 per cent of the population that is 24.1 million needed humanitarian assistance and half of them were about to starve. Today, some of the most alarming aspects in regard to children in Yemen are: Almost a fifth of children have lost their own homes; about 2 million children are out of formal schools; one in five schools can no more be used as there is raging chaos; more than 12 million children demand immediate humanitarian assistance; 4,00,000 children are expected to suffer from severe malnutrition and could collapse without urgent treatment.

The current situation is complicated by acute shortage of food, essential commodities, lack of basic health care and sanitation cum water facilities, outbreak of contagious diseases and finally, deterioration of the economy.

Malnutrition is a silent killer in the country according to the UNICEF records. The World Food Programme report published in 2016 recorded that even before the war started, Yemen had one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the Arabian Peninsula.

It comes as no shock that with the country ensnared in conflict, the issue of malnutrition has exacerbated, with children bearing the brunt of its impact. Aid agencies have struggled to sufficiently meet the dietary needs of these children since the onset of the war.

Another report of UNICEF highlights that ten out of 22 Governorates of Yemen are facing famine and every passing year it is expanding to other places.

Yemen stands out in north-west Asia as the sole republic, while all its neighbouring nations are either monarchies or emirates. This desert nation has a rich history of cultural intersection, owing to its strategic location at the crossroads of civilisations, boasting an extensive coastline that has been connected with ancient cultures for millennia.

But as a modern state, it is relatively new which was created after the merger of the Communist South Yemen with North Yemen in 1990.

Who is responsible for this mess? Can there be an immediate solution to this man-made tragedy? Mainly, the Houthi rebels who belong to the Shia sect of Islam are fighting against the internationally recognised Government of Yemen fully backed by a Saudi-led coalition. So today, both the Houthi fighters and the Saudi sponsored Government are equally responsible for the quagmire in Yemen.

The culpability should be assigned to all international organisations, including the UN, for their failure to compel the warring factions to bring an end to this tragic situation. A resolution is attainable if both the warring parties and their supporters genuinely desire to resolve this crisis.

Like the Yemeni children, many others in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and in Ukraine now are constantly undergoing the same torture.

Conversely, those of us who have never personally endured such traumatic experiences can ever understand the ordeals these children are enduring, unless we actively engage with international news or seek out information on their plight.

Growing up in comfort, enjoying fundamental rights, and yearning for the best things in life define the typical experiences of children during peacetime. However, the harsh realities of wartime plunge us into the opposite end of the spectrum, where the joys of life are denied. Unless childhood is nurtured in an environment of care, love, and peace, it becomes exceedingly challenging to lay the foundations for a brighter future in adulthood. Such children often grapple with emotional disturbances and may, at times, adopt delinquent behaviour patterns as they grow older.

The responsibility lies squarely with the adults engaged in the conflict, be they Houthi rebels or Yemeni Government soldiers. They appear to be neglecting the well-being of their own future generations. In essence, they are inadvertently waging a battle against their own offspring, indirectly causing harm to them. These self-proclaimed warriors are denying innocent children access to essential provisions such as food, shelter, and universally acknowledged basic rights. It is imperative that they all be held accountable under international law.

As we reflect upon Yemen, a nation graced with a strategic location bordered by the Red Sea to the west and the Gulf of Aden to the south, featuring a picturesque capital city named Sanaa, it is disheartening to witness the extent of human barbarity that has enveloped this land. Yemen finds itself strategically positioned in West Asia, sharing its land borders with Saudi Arabia to the north and Oman to the northeast-two influential and oil-rich nations within the region.

Today, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), two big powers of West Asia, are fighting the Yemen war through their proxies. On the other hand, Iran, another giant of the region is directly helping the Houthi warriors to fight against the Government-backed army.

The regional superpowers are competing for their space in Yemen. This has a serious impact on the economy, polity, society and culture of the country. As a result, children are badly affected. They have been totally deprived of normal upbringing for the last nine years. Tragedy in Yemen continues.

The international community has regrettably turned into a passive bystander amid this turmoil. Each day witnesses the tragic loss of innocent children’s lives, and the duration of this conflict remains uncertain. Especially for children like us living in Yemen, it is a harrowing ordeal. They possess the undeniable right to seek justice and equity, yet they find themselves utterly powerless. There exists no avenue for them to voice their protests and express their concerns, leaving them with no recourse but to bear their grievances in solitude.

(Both the writers are young activists. Views expressed her are personal)

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