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Survived narrowly: the story of a child recruited to fight in Yemen

© UNICEF Yemen/ 2017
A child shows injuries sustained in the conflict in Yemen.

‘I was pushed to the army by friends. I was given a weapon and I went to fight. Most of my friends were killed, some of them in battles that we were together’

By Swangin Bismarck and Moohialdin Fuad

SANA’A, 6 April 2017  - The recruitment and use of children by armed groups is one of the darkest dimensions of the conflict in Yemen, two years on since it escalated. The UN estimates that over 1,500 children have been recruited.

Ahmed* who just turned 17 years old is one of those who has survived to tell his torturous one-year ordeal while with one of the armed groups.

Before he was recruited, he lived a normal life with his family. “I was like any other child. I used to wake up and prepare to go to school. After school, I would go to pray and play with friends”, Ahmed said.

This all changed one day. Some of his older friends who had already joined the fighting put enormous pressure on him. Many boys of his age in the neighborhood had already succumbed to the pressure. Eventually Ahmed couldn’t resist any more and he gave in.

“I was pushed. In my village, all of them went to fight. People told me that I was not a man because I refused to go fight. I could not stand this”, Ahmed said. He went on to spend a year performing several roles, too dangerous for a child. These ranged from fighting in battles to manning check points, including for the whole night and sometimes carrying food for those on duty.

The conflict in Yemen exploded in March 2015 into a brutal conflict involving the use of deadly weapons. The fighting spread rapidly. Since then several battles have been fought across Yemen’s rugged terrain and the plains along the coast.

No time to be a child

Ahmed says, there was no time to be a child while with the armed group. If he was not fighting in the front line, he had to perform other roles. He says it all depends on the commander.

“Sometimes I am in the night shift and sometimes during the day time keeping an eye on our position in case the enemy might come” Ahmed recounts.

“I was pushed to join the fighting by friends. I was given a weapon and I went to fight. Most of my friends were killed, some of them in battles that we were together”, Ahmed said while looking down. He clutched his fingers as he recalled the dark moments in which he only narrowly got away with his life.

Some of Ahmed’s age mates were not so lucky. They were killed fighting a war not of their making.

Dark moments

“The moment I will never forget was when there was an attack and I called my close friend to check on him but he couldn’t respond. He was killed. I lost a friend besides me”, he said staring at the sky and repeated, “I will not forget it”.

The physical and emotional impact to which children are exposed to while with the fighting groups shatter their world. Many will carry these heavy emotional burdens into their childhood.

“After my friend was killed, I became sick and they gave me a break to go and get treatment. I was under medical treatment for more than one month”, Ahmed said.

Regained childhood

It was while he was on treatment that Ahmed met a staff member from a UNICEF supported Non-Governmental organization(NGO) that works to empower adolescents through awareness and facilitating their access to basic services. With support from trained counsellors, Ahmed received some counselling so as to put behind the horrors of his life while in recruitment. He was later enrolled to an English course at a local institution where he continues to pursue his dreams for a bright future.

“I wish to learn and have a bright future and I really wish the war could end. Enough is enough”, Ahmed says.

Children not soldiers

Having experienced first-hand the grueling life in recruitment, Ahmed wishes no other child should ever go through the same fate.

“I have a message to every child who is like me, younger or older. I ask them not to listen to any one pushing them to fight. Take care of your future”, Ahmed says.

Together with its partners, UNICEF is working to support children like Ahmed get back to normal life and pursue their ambitions. Efforts are being exerted to deliver community-based child protection services, including psychosocial support, focusing on strengthening the capacity of children, families and communities to overcome the impact of conflict and displacement and to protect children from further violence, abuse and exploitation.

Since the start of 2017, more than 54,000 children affected in various ways by the conflict have received psychosocial support through a number of partners supported by UNICEF.

* His name has been changed for protection purposes. 



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