UN sounds alarm over children's plight in war-torn Yemen

Children's agency calls for end to years-long conflict, urges warring parties to allow it to access minors needing aid.

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    The UN has described Yemen as the world's worst humanitarian crisis[File: Yahya Arhab/EPA-EFE]
    The UN has described Yemen as the world's worst humanitarian crisis[File: Yahya Arhab/EPA-EFE]

    The United Nations children's agency (UNICEF) has sounded the alarm over the dangers faced by children in war-torn Yemen, calling for an immediate end to a long-running conflict that has triggered the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

    The call on Wednesday came as UNICEF held a ceremony in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, as part of events marking the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

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    "The children want peace and the children deserve peace," Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF's representative in Yemen, told a press conference.

    "Together we will work to make sure (children's) rights are fulfilled. That they can believe in their future in Yemen."

    Children's letter to UN chief

    Yemen's conflict broke out in late 2014 when Houthi rebels, allied with forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, seized much of the country, including Sanaa. The war escalated in March 2015 when a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates launched a ferocious air campaign against the rebels in a bid to restore the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

    Since then, tens of thousands of civilians and combatants have been killed and millions of others have been pushed to the brink of starvation. Health officials, meanwhile, are warning that up to six million children could be at risk of malnutrition if the war, currently in its fifth year, continues.

    Speaking to Al Jazeera, Nyanti stressed the significance of ending the war so Yemeni children enjoy their rights.

    She also urged all parties to the conflict to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law and provide the UN with unhindered access to children in need of aid.

    Also present at the press briefing were five children, part of a group of 20 minors who earlier this month wrote a letter addressed to UN chief Antonio Guterres and UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore to demand their rights.

    "We, the children who have learned about the Convention on the Rights of the Child wish to live in peace because we are afraid of war and afraid of the explosions. It is our right to live in peace and to have all the rights mentioned in the Conventions," the children wrote.

    Fore said on Wednesday she was "deeply moved and honoured" by the letter. "We want the dreams that you describe to come true. We all want an end to the war in Yemen. We are listening, UNICEF is with you every step of the way."

    Child casualties

    According to UNICEF, the CRC  is the most widely ratified convention in the world, with 196 state parties to the convention. The United States is the only country to have not ratified it.

    Although Yemen was the first country in the Middle East to ratify the convention, according to Nyanti, its young people continue to suffer.

    In July, a UN report blacklisted the Saudi-UAE-led coalition for a third straight year, saying that it was responsible for the killing killed and wounding of 729 Yemeni children in 2018. The report also blacklisted the Houthis, saying the rebels killed and wounded 398 children, as well as Yemeni government forces who were responsible for 58 child casualties. 

    Meanwhile, Elisabeth Kendall, senior research fellow in Arab and Islamic Studies at Oxford University, said two million children in Yemen are out of school. Speaking to Al Jazeera, Kendall said the situation was further worsened by a number of healthcare challenges affecting children in the Arab world's poorest country, including a cholera outbreak. 

    Earlier this year, UNICEF also issued a report highlighting the mounting cost of the war to the lives of Yemeni mothers and newborns.

    "Mothers and babies are amongst the most highly vulnerable in Yemen. Every two hours, one mother and six newborns die because of complications during pregnancy or birth," it said.

    Baraa Shiban, a Yemeni human rights activist and political commentator, said the international community should support local efforts to assist children in Yemen.

    "The state structures in Yemen are collapsing faster than the international aid is reaching people," he said.

    The growing human cost of the war in Yemen

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    The growing human cost of the war in Yemen

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News