CAIRO (AP) — Yemen's Houthi rebels are recruiting fighters as young as 15 and using religious schools to lure teenagers into their ranks without their parents' knowledge, a rights group said Tuesday.
Amnesty International described the "appalling" practices in a new report, citing family members of four boys, aged 15 and 17, who were recruited by the rebels and are now fighting along the Yemeni-Saudi border, which has seen some of the heaviest fighting over the past two years.
Houthi officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
The conflict in Yemen pits the rebels, who control the capital and much of the country's north, against a Saudi-led coalition fighting to restore the internationally recognized government.
The Amnesty report said the Houthis have tapped into the growing number of students in poor areas who are out of school because of the conflict. When child soldiers are killed in combat, their parents receive up to $120 a month as well as weapons, Amnesty said.
The family members and other witnesses interviewed by Amnesty said the children were initially taken to a Quranic school near the capital, Sanaa, where they were indoctrinated.
"This is a shameful and outrageous violation of international law," said Samah Hadid, the deputy director of Amnesty's Beirut office. "It is appalling that Houthi forces are taking children away from their parents and their homes, stripping them of their childhood to put them in the line of fire, where they could die."
The war has pushed the Arab world's poorest nation to the brink of famine. Aerial bombardment by the Saudi-led and U.S.-backed coalition, as well as ground fighting, has killed up to 10,000 civilians and destroyed much of the already weak infrastructure.
International organizations have condemned the recruitment of child soldiers in Yemen. U.N. agencies have documented nearly 1,500 cases of children recruited by all parties since the conflict started, Amnesty said.