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AL-MUKALLA: The leader of the Houthi militia has called on families in regions under his control in Yemen to encourage their children to join summer camps, a move that has renewed accusations against the militia of child soldiering.

Abdul Malik Al-Houthi announced the opening of the annual summer camps on Saturday, saying they would fill in the free time of the country’s children during the summer and teach ideas rooted in the “faith identity” of Yemen, which would allegedly protect them from foreign ideas and also motivate them to confront their enemies. 

“The enemies are disturbed by the summer courses, and their media outlets usually start organized campaigns attacking the courses and those responsible for them,” Al-Houthi said, urging his supporters not to listen to critics. 

After their leader’s speech, Houthi officials in Sanaa, Hajjah, Hodeidah, and other areas controlled by the militia launched summer camps in their cities and encouraged parents to send their children. 

Similarly to summer camps in previous years, the Houthis have faced accusations from Yemeni government officials, journalists, activists, and human rights organizations that they exploit schools, mosques, and other facilities used for these camps to indoctrinate, recruit, and train children for military purposes against the government.

“The Houthi militia has converted these summer camps into mobilization camps before conscription. This is the initial step in the recruitment process,” Ali Al-Fakih, editor of Al-Masdar Online, told Arab News.

Instead of teaching children peace, human values, music, and sketching, Al-Fakih said, children in Houthi camps are taught sectarian ideas that inspire hatred, violence, and killing, as well as how to make models for military equipment.

“Unfortunately, all of the ideologies taught in these camps promote sectarianism, instigate hatred and violence, and create time bombs,” he said.

Videos from Houthi summer camps in recent years have shown Houthi figures instructing youngsters how to wield weapons while some children were taken on a tour of the graves of deceased Houthi warriors.

Other children were observed screaming Houthi slogans, professing allegiance to the militia leader, vowing to battle militia opponents such as Israel and America, and participating in mock military parades. 

Critics have warned families living in Houthi-controlled areas not to listen to the militia’s calls to join summer camps, noting that many graduates of those camps have turned their guns on their own families.  

“To parents in areas controlled by the terrorist Houthi militia, boycott Houthi summer camps to save your children’s lives. Beware of clerics, charlatans, and deceptive phrases,” said Saleh Al-Qutaibi, a Yemeni army officer in the central city of Marib.

In their most recent report to the UN Security Council, released late last year, the UN Panel of Experts accused the Houthis of committing the majority of human rights violations in Yemen, including child soldiering.

It said that Houthi summer camps exist in three forms: open summer camps for boys and girls, model summer camps for children, and closed residential summer camps where boys aged 13 to 17 spend at least a month without seeing anyone, including their families. The report said that the latter camps provide boys with military training.

To get youngsters into their camps, the Houthis offer incentives such as waiving their registration costs for the following school year. Families that refuse to send their children to the camps are penalized by being denied humanitarian help and having their children abducted and sent to the conflict. 

Al-Fakih said this year that Houthis in the province of Ibb would not release students’ school year results if they did not attend summer camps. 

“They tied the submission of results for the last school year to the student’s attendance at summer centers,” Al-Fakih said.

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