The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia offered around $10,000 to families in Darfur, Sudan affected by the Sudanese civil war to send their children to fight in Yemen, the New York Times reported on Friday. The Saudi-led coalition has denied the accusations.
Saudi Arabia has been recruiting children from desperate families in the war-torn African nation to pad up its frontlines in the Yemen war, the New York Times reported on Friday.
Saudi Arabia offered around $10,000 to families in Darfur, Sudan affected by the Sudanese civil war to send their children to fight in Yemen against the Houthi rebels.
In the article “On the Front Line of the Saudi War in Yemen? Child Soldiers from Darfur,” the newspaper quoted 16-year-old Hager Shomo Ahmed as saying: “Families know that the only way their lives will change is if their sons join the war and bring them back the money.”
He was only 14 when the offer was made to his family, according to the Times.
“People are desperate. They are fighting in Yemen because they know that in Sudan they don’t have a future.” Hafiz Ismail Mohammed, a critic of Sudan's government and former banker, told the NY Times.
“We are exporting soldiers to fight like they are a commodity we are exchanging for foreign currency,” Mohammed added, according to the article.
Most of the Sudanese fighters come from “the battle-scarred and impoverished region of Darfur, where some 300,000 people were killed and 1.2 million displaced during a dozen years of conflict” in the nation of 40 million in Northeast Africa, said the NY Times.
The Saudi Arabia government has been outsourcing the ground war in Yemen to Sudanese men and boys from Darfur--turning many into child soldiers--paying impoverished people and directing them by radio so no Saudi soldiers need to be on the ground in Yemen. https://t.co/XcKQaTcJDx pic.twitter.com/2AfRMHuEaC— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) December 29, 2018
Saudi uses child soldiers to bolster war efforts
The Houthis have been widely accused of using children in their fight. The Saudis, who often blame the rebels for using child soldiers as human shields, have been running rehabilitation projects for such children.
Yet “at any time for nearly four years as many as 14,000 Sudanese militiamen have been fighting in Yemen in tandem with the local militia aligned with the Saudis, according to several Sudanese fighters who have returned and Sudanese lawmakers who are attempting to track it. Hundreds, at least, have died there,” the NY Times reported.
“Five fighters who have returned from Yemen and another about to depart said that children made up at least 20 percent of their units. Two said children were more than 40 percent.”
The newspaper said Saudi Arabia paid Sudanese children a salary starting at the riyal equivalent of around $480 a month, with bonuses for combat, deposited directly into the Faisal Islamic Bank of Sudan, partly owned by Saudis.
“At the end of a six-month rotation, each fighter also received a one-time payment of at least 700,000 Sudanese pounds — roughly $10,000 at the current official exchange rate,” the NY Times reported.
Speaking to the paper, Turki al Malki, a spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition denied allegations the kingdom was recruiting child soldiers as “fictitious and unfounded.”
Many of the Sudanese men hired by Saudi Arabia were from the Rapid Support Forces or the Janjaweed, the NY Times said. The militiamen are blamed "for the systematic rape of women and girls, indiscriminate killing and other war crimes during Darfur’s conflict, and veterans involved in those horrors are now leading their deployment to Yemen — albeit in a more formal and structured campaign."
Yemen's war started in 2014 when Houthi rebels overran much of the country, including the capital Sanaa, forcing the government to flee to Saudi Arabia.
A year later, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and other allies launched a massive air campaign aimed at rolling back Houthi military gains.
The Saudi-led campaign in Yemen has devastated the country's infrastructure, including its health and sanitation systems, prompting the UN to describe it as one of the worst humanitarian disasters in modern times.