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Yemeni forces free 64 Saudi-paid child soldiers under UNICEF supervision

This file picture shows Yemeni children holding weapons in an undisclosed location in Yemen. (Photo by English-language DW television news network)

Dozens of children captured while fighting on behalf of the Saudi-led military coalition against Yemeni army and allied fighters from Popular Committees have been released under the supervision of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

On Monday, a total of 64 child soldiers captured on border fronts while fighting for the Saudi-led coalition alongside the Saudi-backed militiamen loyal to Yemen’s former President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi were freed in a ceremony organized by the Yemeni Ministry of Human Rights, Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor as well as the National Committee for Prisoners' Affairs (NCPA), Arabic-language al-Masirah television network reported.

Head of the NCPA, Abdulqader al-Mortadha, said a great proportion of these child soldiers had been recruited to defend Saudi Arabia’s southern borders.

Mortadha added that the children will undergo a two-month rehabilitation course before they are finally reunited with their families.

He then criticized Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi-paid militiamen for the recruitment of thousands of Yemeni children, stating that they bear full responsibility for the loss of their lives and the suffering of their families.

Yemeni Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Obaid Salim bin Dhabei, for his part, extended his gratitude to the Ministry of Defense and NCPA for their “humanitarian and patriotic” move.

 Dhabei emphasized that his ministry, in partnership with UNICEF, will rehabilitate the children in order to reintegrate them into society.

UNICEF official Ibrahim Shiq also praised the move, underscoring that children must not be drawn into conflict. He added that his colleagues have met the children and that they are in good condition.

He pointed out that UNICEF has developed a plan aimed at psychological support and rehabilitation of the released child soldiers.

Additionally, Yemeni Human Rights Minister Radhia Abdullah stated that member states of the Saudi-led military coalition fighting against Yemen totally ignore the international law banning children’s involvement in armed conflicts.

Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched a devastating campaign against Yemen in March 2015, with the goal of bringing the government of Hadi back to power and crushing the Ansarullah movement.

The US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, estimates that the war has claimed more than 100,000 lives over the past nearly five years.

The UN says over 24 million Yemenis are in dire need of humanitarian aid, including 10 million suffering from extreme levels of hunger.

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