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Yemen’s Forgotten Victims – Children Sold as A Commodity Of War

(Photo Courtesy of the Islamic Monthly)
(Photo Courtesy of the Islamic Monthly)

“If you think Libya’s slave market was bad then let me tell you, I have seen worse. Children are being shipped off the coast of Yemen under military escort for the Gulf countries, and no one is saying a word.”

“Yemen’s children are being trafficked into slavery and prostitution as part of a Saudi Arabian war tactic!” Again and again, such cries have been shared across Yemen’s rights community, both as injunctions and warnings to an apathetic international community.

“Yemen’s children are being sold right under our nose and no one seems to mind … the same patterns of wanton criminality we witnessed in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have now gripped Yemen. Those crimes are being perpetrated in broad daylight, in all impunity because speaking against them would mean shining a light on Saudi Arabia’s darkest war tactics,” Ahlam Mohammed Al Ansi, a former caseworker at the ministry of social affairs told Citizen Truth in exclusive comments.

Children in Sana'a

Children in Sana’a, Yemen. (Photo: Rod Waddington)

Yemen War: Apathy as Abuses Abound

As Yemenis dig their heels further in against Saudi Arabia’s war coalition to reclaim sovereignty over both their land and their future, human rights activists have come forth with a discovery of what appears to be a systematic and well-coordinated desire to inflict maximum harm onto those made most vulnerable to the ravages of war.

It was William Wilberforce who once said: “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” Few words have better encapsulated what Yemen has had to endure since late March 2015 – that is engineered apathy and disinterest towards a people’s suffering in the name of identity politics, and the ever-pressing demands of cynicism.

Beyond those statistics of war and the geopolitical rationalization of a military intervention we were told exists within the legal confines of UN Resolution 2216, we can no longer play mute to the many and grave violations against human rights conventions and international law Yemen’s conflict has manufactured.

It would be to betray both the spirit of international law and the mandate set forth by the United Nations to simply forgive grand criminality so that countries’ political will could be manifested – the end as it were, cannot justify the means.

If the international community cannot see the long term damage such leniency ultimately carries when played out within the context of geopolitics, lawlessness and the systematic erosion of our laws and regulations will become the norm – thus eroding the very fabric of those democratic principles we claim to want to abide by and promote.

Blame it must be said, lies with all parties as all parties have given into self-serving policies and tactics, so that they could prevail militarily. But if all parties ought to be called into account, objectivity demands we consider the right of a people to self-defend when faced with a brutal, and oftentimes systematically indiscriminately en masse military slaughter. Not all crimes stand equal when looked at within their context.

Failing Yemen’s Future

As it stands today Yemen is not merely a failed state plagued by poverty, pandemic corruption, and the ever-present threat of Islamic radicalization. In the throes of a war which threatens to sink a people’s national identity by inflaming ancient upsets, both sectarian and tribal, the nation is facing yet another threat to its sovereignty – one so insidious and nefarious that it could claim Yemen’s future generation.

Empowered by the anonymity and impunity military conflicts often bring by the chaos they foment, human traffickers have found in Yemen, a haven – so much so in fact that the trade has become a veritable industry, following those patterns we observed in Libya, Syria and Iraq as unrest gripped them.

In its most recent report on human trafficking in Yemen, the United Nations admitted to a recent spike, quoting the escalation of violence for the security vacuum, as well as traffickers’ new desire to recruit children to serve their military ambitions.

The report, as quoted by a U.S. State Department report, reads: “Since the escalation of armed conflict in March 2015, human rights organizations reported all parties to the conflict continued their unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers. As a result of its limited capacity and the ongoing conflict, the Yemeni government has not implemented a 2014 U.N. action plan to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers, although the government did express interest in revitalizing the discussion on implementation.”

Sex Trafficking Children

Although the enrollment of children into the armed forces and/or various militias now involved in Yemen’s conflict is deplorable, it does not quite cover the extent of Yemen’s trafficking crisis, as it leaves out those children sold out to a life of sexual exploitation and slavery. Where the United Nations alludes to the issue, it says nothing of the magnitude of the crisis.

“Yemeni children have been subjected to sex trafficking within the country and in Saudi Arabia. Girls as young as 15 years old have reportedly been exploited in commercial sex in hotels and clubs in the Governorates of Sana’a, Aden, and Taiz. Prior to the conflict, most child sex tourists in Yemen were from Saudi Arabia, with a smaller percentage originating from other Gulf nations, including the United Arab Emirates. Some Saudi men used legally contracted ‘temporary marriages’ – authorized by some Islamic authorities as misyar marriages – for the purpose of sexually exploiting Yemeni girls, some reportedly as young as 10 years old, and some of whom were later abandoned on the streets of Saudi Arabia.”

Several sources have already put the number of trafficked children to well above 25,000 in the past 2 years alone, a dramatic increase from the estimated 10,000 children per year the U.N. admits to. Those numbers do not account for the thousands of children forced to bear arms for or against Saudi Arabia’s military intervention.

Humanitarian aid workers say they have witnessed the “wholesale of young boys and girls” to militias aligned with the Saudi war coalition in South Yemen where they have several strongholds – mainly Aden and the south-eastern province of Hadramawt.

Map of administrative divisions of Yemen.

Map of administrative divisions of Yemen. (Graphic: TUBS)

“Boys and girls are being picked up – sometimes by force, sometimes for a few hundred dollars by Saudi men … this happens in refugee camps, villages … everywhere, and there is nothing we can do to stop them because they control everything in the south,” said a former official at the Mayor’s office in Aden under strict anonymity.

He added: “If you think Libya’s slave market was bad then let me tell you, I have seen worse. Children are being shipped off the coast of Yemen under military escort for the Gulf countries, and no one is saying a word. Yemen is under a strict blockade, but for some reason when it comes to human trafficking everyone is looking the other way.”

Abandoned to the wants of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a country we know to be brutal and unforgiving to those it views as its enemies – Jamal Khashoggi’s murder stands a painful reminder – Yemen is battling against more than just a military assault; it is fighting against the disintegration of its society.

If human trafficking has become an unsavory reality plaguing the Greater Middle Eastern region, the systemic ‘acquisition’ of Yemen’s children by criminal rings and Saudi Arabia’s military forces’ complacency speak of a campaign to dissolve and spent Yemen’s social fabric to better inflict pain.

Such demographic remapping cannot go unspoken!

Catherine Perez-Shakdam

Catherine is a Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and a former consultant to the UN Security Council on Yemen. Her work has been published in the Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post, the Daily Express, Epoch Times and countless other media.

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  1. Larry Stout July 25, 2019

    How’s that for “free enterprise”? Approved by American Enterprise Institute “scholars” and “fellows”, no doubt.

  2. Salaim Barchine July 26, 2019

    Time will crrtainly talk in the FUTURE AND JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL as long as it takes.YEA SAUDI YOUR TIME WILL SURELY COME AROUND.

  3. Piotr Jankowski August 3, 2019

    The link here: “The report reads: ” does not direct us to “UN report” – but US State Dpt. report.


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