For the first time in Yemen’s four-year-long war a group of teenagers have written their own calls for peace, saying adults have failed to protect them.
Next week it will be exactly four years since the escalation of the conflict in Yemen – having lived through violence, hunger and restrictions, in their Peace Resolution the children demand an end to the war, the right to education, free movement and freedom from fear.
Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis on earth, where 24 million people – 80 percent of the population – need humanitarian assistance and protection, and almost 10 million people are one step away from starvation. Around 10 million children don’t have access to adequate healthcare, one in three girls and one in four boys don’t go to school, and 1.5 million children fled their homes to escape hunger and violence.
Under the supervision of trained child protection officers, the children were asked to write how they feel about the conflict in Yemen. Their honest responses give a unique insight into a child’s experience of war:
“When we walk, we are scared, when we sleep, we are scared. When we play, we are scared. We don’t want to live in a warzone anymore, we are sick of it…We are innocent. We are children just like any other children, just like your children.
“We want to be cared for like any other child. We want an education. We want the chance to go to school. We want to draw, eat, laugh and play. We have the right to learn and be looked after, to grow up and pursue our dreams.”
Amani* is 13 years old:
“My father’s salary hasn’t been paid for four years…Before, my father used to bring us fruits and desserts when he came home, now he comes back home empty handed. He is not able to afford them anymore…We have been deprived of many things because of this war…The war has worn us down, bombing and destruction have worn us down.”
Maha* is 13 years old. She describes the moment her father was injured:
“Where my dad worked was hit by three of four rockets and he was injured, deep gashes were opened in his cheek and from his forehead to his eye by thick glass shards…When the rockets hit, he was thrown with the broken glass and his office was turned upside down by the force of the explosion…I was deeply affected by my father’s injury and (his) wounds. When we went to the hospital, I used to see wounded people, like a guy with a gash in his abdomen and his guts spilling out.”
Sukaina Sharafuddin, aid worker for Save the Children, said:
“Children in Yemen don't often get the opportunity to speak about their feelings – they're too busy just trying to survive. These children have grown up very quickly from seeing so much suffering all around them. Nearly all the children expressed their disappointment at being forgotten by the world. They couldn’t understand why children elsewhere get to be properly fed and clothed and sleep safely at night. I’m a parent and this is not the life I would wish on my child and I think parents everywhere would agree.”
Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s country director in Yemen:
“We believe only words, not weapons, can bring peace to Yemen’s children. And the children have told us very clearly that they expect better from the international community, by whom they feel abandoned and neglected. Children are dying every day because of the lack or denial of food, a lack of medicines, because of violence. Around 240,000 people are living through catastrophic levels of hunger and are barely surviving - half of them children hovering on the brink of starvation.
“Children feel the destruction around them and they see what is needed on the ground. Peace, food, education. And now they’re asking for it. We are publishing this Peace Resolution today because children’s voices are rarely considered. The authors of this resolution want the world to know how they feel, to understand their dire circumstances but also to remind everyone of a simple fact: children are children everywhere and deserve the best possible chance in life.”
As 80 percent of the Yemeni population requires some sort of humanitarian assistance with millions of children on the brink of starvation, it’s more urgent than ever for world leaders to put children front and centre of its foreign, defence and aid policies. That means calling out allies when they violate humanitarian law, suspending arms sales to warring parties that are killing children in Yemen, and implementing a clear strategy to protect children and their families caught up in conflict.
For interviews, call Jess Brennan on 0421 334 918.
*Name has been changed to protect identity