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Explosive weapons killing Yemeni children

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Three children being killed every day in Yemen’s ongoing conflict as Save the Children calls on the UK Government to stop selling arms destined for use in the fighting.

At least three children are being killed every day in Yemen, many of them as a direct result of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, according to international children’s charity, Save the Children.

Their new briefing, Nowhere safe for Yemen’s children: the deadly impact of explosive weapons in Yemen, says children are being bombarded daily by intensive airstrikes, shelling and rocket attacks. It is calling for civilians to be protected and for the UK Government to stop selling arms to all warring parties including Saudi Arabia.

More than 1,500 children have been killed or injured since violence escalated in March according to the UN many of them due to explosive weapons like missiles and large aircraft bombs, artillery shells, rockets, mortars and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Yemen now has the highest number of casualties owing to explosive weapons in the world, following Syria.

The briefing includes a range of unheard children’s voices who say they are terrified by the daily bombardment, including 15-year-old Zaid, whose brother was killed by an air strike while playing outside.

“As soon as I heard it I ran out of the house to look for him. I saw lots of people standing around the bodies and injured people. Then I saw that my brother was lying on the ground. He was missing his arm and his body was burnt.

“Before my brother’s death I was not afraid. But now I stay at home all the time as I am too scared to be outside on the street,” he said.

The impact of explosive weapons on children’s smaller, more delicate bodies is particularly severe and they suffer complex injuries requiring specialist care and surgery.

Edward Santiago, Country Director of Save the Children in Yemen, says: “It’s bitterly ironic that the very health facilities needed to treat injured children have often been damaged or destroyed by explosive weapons themselves”.

“Even when facilities survive, the combination of a de facto blockade on imports, insecurity and restrictions on humanitarian access means they do not have enough medical supplies and fuel to function properly. A shocking 600 hospitals have now shut due to shortages of supplies and staff or being damaged.”

The breakdown of Yemen’s health system means more than 14 million people are now without the basics like antibiotics and vaccines, and risk dying of preventable diseases like diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria.

When heavy explosive weapons are used in populated areas like cities, towns and villages, they expose civilians to predictable and huge risk because of their devastating wide area effects. The UN Secretary-General and the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross in October issued a “joint warning” that called on states to stop using heavy explosive weapons in populated areas.

Furthermore and worryingly, these weapons also have a ‘failure rate’ meaning they could remain unexploded only for children to pick them up or walk over them, causing loss of limbs or death.

Ten-year-old Mohammed says: “I was playing in the street and one of my friends found a strange thing on the ground. He took it and was playing with it when it started shooting fire. A few seconds later it exploded. We were all injured. People came to take us to hospital and later I found out that three of my friends had been killed, including my best friend. I was in the hospital for a long time and had to have many operations. Now I hate everyone who uses weapons.”

Save the Children’s partner organisation YEMAC (Yemen Executive Mine Action Centre) has already begun demining activities in the south, including warning children and their families what unexploded weapons look like. Alongside mine awareness, Save the Children is treating malnutrition and providing healthcare, water and psychosocial support to children.

The charity is calling for an immediate ceasefire in Yemen. In the meantime, it is urging all parties to the conflict to stop using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas, and for the UK to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia and other countries involved in the Yemen conflict.

Santiago adds: “The UK prides itself on being a world leader on responding to humanitarian crises yet its reluctance to publicly condemn the human cost of conflict in Yemen gives the impression that diplomatic relations and arms sales trump the lives of Yemen’s children.

“The UK Government must not stand by while children are being bombed, it must demand that civilian lives and civilian facilities like hospitals are protected.”


Photos and case studies available

For interviews or more information please contact: a.klein@savethechildren.org.uk / +44(0)2037631069 / +44(0)7587038492

Notes to editors

View the briefing

In the seven months since violence escalated in March and November 17th, 637 children have been verified as killed, which translates to three children per day. According to the UN, 4,500 civilians were reportedly killed or injured by explosive weapons in Yemen during the first seven months of 2015: that is more than in any other country or crisis in the world during the same period. The UN has also said that in the second quarter of 2015 nearly three quarters of child casualties (deaths and injuries) were caused by airstrikes.

Save the Children has been working in Yemen since 1963. Since the escalation of the conflict in March, we’ve reached 400,000 people including more than 227,000 children by:

  • health: supporting 77 fixed health facilities and operating 25 mobile health teams
  • nutrition: treating malnutrition and delivering vitamin supplementation
  • child protection: providing psychological first aid and child friendly spaces
  • water: distributing hygiene kits, water filters and water storage tanks, and rehabilitating a range of water points, latrines, sanitation blocks
  • livelihoods: providing more than 35,000 households with food or cash transfers