Ahmed, 13, was picking guava fruit from trees in the Al-Jahmalia district of Taiz with four friends on Sept. 18 when the bombs fell.
trying in vain to persuade his friends into a game of soccer, he’d wandered
off. Minutes later a shell, fired by Houthi-Saleh forces, struck, shaking the
earth beneath Ahmed’s feet. He ran back to check on his friends, only to arrive
in time to watch the youngest, Rayan, 6, take his last breath on the street.
The limbs of the others, ages 15, 14, and 12, were scattered across the narrow
pathway between traditional stone houses.
beginning of the war, we used to get scared. But now we are used to it,” said
Ahmed, the crackle of gunfire and shelling echoing in the distance. He was
standing in the same street where he’d watched his friends die two weeks
is so normal in Taiz, located in southwestern Yemen, that hardened responses
from children like Ahmed have become common, revealing another grim reality
lost in the chaos: Across Yemen, children are bearing the brunt of this war.
a half years of fighting between Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition has
resulted in the world’s great humanitarian disaster, and not only from
airstrikes, shelling, and snipers. More than 2.2 million Yemeni children have
been pushed toward starvation, with one child dying every 10 minutes from
hunger and preventable diseases, according to aid agencies. Of the more than
900,000 suspected cholera cases since April 2017, 27 percent are children under
the age of 5.
they’re not suffering from disease, starvation, or violence, Yemeni children
are the victims of recruitment — an estimated 1,500 children have been
recruited as soldiers since the war escalated in March 2015. All told, more
than 11 million Yemeni children are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.
children of Taiz, where everyday activities like collecting water or playing
soccer in the street can be deadly, feel the urgency. Battle for control of the
city has raged for over two years, with much of its districts under partial
siege from Houthi-Saleh forces, whose rise to power prompted a heavy air
response from Saudi Arabia’s coalition. Those two sides have loosely defined
the nearly three-year civil war since, with Houthi forces claiming they are
fighting “daesh” — the derogatory name given to Islamic State and used as a
catch-all term for their enemies — and
the Saudi-led coalition claiming to defend the country’s legitimate government
against the Houthis.
in particular children, have regularly been the victims of indiscriminate
shelling and sniper fire from gunmen targeting residential areas. Some
residents have fled, but many more remain.
hundred miles to the south of Taiz in the port-city Aden, 15-year-old Yasser
survived snipers and the shelling of his home but it forced him and his family
to flee in the early stages of the war. In the south of the country, Aden
experienced the beginning of the war on March 19, 2015 — the day the Houthis
and army units loyal to the country’s former president of 33 years, Ali
Abdullah Saleh, marched into the city sparking gun battles. Saleh loyalists in
the air force then carried out airstrikes targeting incumbent president
Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, a leader backed by Saudi Arabia. For more than four
months Aden was engulfed by fighting and besieged by Houthis who blocked food
and medical supplies from entering their opponents’ territory.
family home is in the heart of the city, in the district of Crater — named
because of its location in the middle of a dormant volcano. Houthi snipers took
up positions in buildings 200 meters from his front door. In the absence of an
army to defend them, local residents, known as the “Southern Resistance,” took up arms. When I first met Yasser, in May
2015, his father was recovering after being shot twice by snipers, and he was
living with his family in a hotel behind the battle’s front lines.
snipers shoot at us if we carry toy guns,” Yasser told me.
years since we last spoke, Yasser still returns to the memory of the day he
thought his mother had died when their hotel room was shelled. In July 2015, a
ground offensive, launched as part of Saudi Arabia’s military intervention and
led by its coalition partner, the United Arab Emirates, eventually pushed the
Houthi-Saleh forces out of Aden and its southern governorates.
victory allowed Yasser and his family to return to their home. But they are
struggling to return to the life they knew before. Yasser’s dream is to become
a doctor, but he missed a year of schooling due to the fighting. Now his school
is open sporadically (dependent on teachers being paid) and operating on a
shift system to accommodate a surge of students coming from other schools that
were destroyed in the war.
it comes to education, Yasser is one of the luckier ones. UNICEF estimates 2
million children in Yemen are growing up without an education, as schools
across the country are bombed by Saudi coalition airstrikes, turned into de
facto bases by rebel fighters, or used as emergency shelter for displaced
Houthi-controlled capital of Sana’a, Sara, 8, lost her sister and baby brother
when an airstrike hit her house on Aug. 25, 2017. She can remember in vivid
detail the moment when rescuers dug her out of the rubble, as the screams of
other victims nearby faded.
among the few who survived a Saudi airstrike that killed 16 civilians,
including seven children — two of whom were her siblings. Two-year-old Naif and
her older sister, 14-year-old Sharoug, were killed instantly. An investigation
by Amnesty International concluded that an American made bomb was used in the
reached hospital, I realized my clothes were soaked in blood,” said Sara. Three
days later she began to move her legs but still has pain in her ribs from
nearly being crushed to death.
Ahmed, and Yasser’s experiences are just some of the stories that explain why
UNICEF’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, Geert
Cappelaere, recently described Yemen as “one of the worst places on earth to be
by violence and the long-term consequences of growing up underfed is now the
unavoidable legacy for an entire generation of millions of Yemeni children
across the country. Few will escape the impact of this seemingly endless war
that stands to deteriorate further after the Houthis and Saleh loyalists went
to war with each other in the streets of the capital Monday, resulting in the
death of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Those who survive having
witnessed its brutality will be left with haunting memories for the rest of
without a leg, one without a hand, and one with his brain spilled out,” said
Ahmed, pointing to the ground where he saw his friends die. “They were all
Craig is a British-Irish independent journalist focusing on Yemen and the