Working together to protect Arab children [Archives:2007/1060/Viewpoint]

June 18 2007

Last year there were two incidents reported in Yemeni media about Ghada, a girl of eight and Yousif, a boy of seven, who died because of physical abuse by their stepparent and parent respectively.

Like them, there are many children in our country who are continuously subjected to different forms of abuse and violence, whether sexual abuse, child labor, deprivation from the basic rights such as health care and education, and sometimes even deprivation from a place to call home.

Just this week authorities returned 47 smuggled Yemeni children below 14 years of age before they reached the Saudi boarder. Many of the smuggled children had been voluntarily handed over by their families in search for a new source of income.

Early marriage had been one of the major problems of Yemeni children, especially females. The problem does not end with the marriage, in fact, it starts with it. Many girls face physical and social troubles in addition to the mental complications; where a child of 14 years oldsuddenly becoms a wife, a daughter in law, and a mother. In many cases in rural areas, the marriage was originally created in order to bring more free labor into the household. And hence in addition to the marital obligations, the child bride is actually used in the farm, to take care of the live stock, to fetch water and wood from remote areas, or to work in the house.

Now with the Sa'ada war exhausting our youth, the recent reports from the field say that most of the army's loses are young soldiers between 16 and 18 years old. They are new recruits who don't have much combat experience and who had been pushed to the front line of a heated battle.

Ugly statistics from the Ministry of Education itself indicate that there is an increasing drop out rate of children in the basic education level. Factors including poverty, lack of facilities, difficult syllabus, and unqualified teachers have aggravated this problem. Moreover, most of the children's responses as to why don't they go to school, is “what's the point?” commenting on the high unemployment rate that exceeds 30% according to statistics of 2004.

Yemen is one of the countries with the fastest population growth. More than half of the Yemeni population are under fifteen years of age. And with the people under the food poverty line being 40%, this means half of them are children. UNICEF – Yemen more than once, highlighted the alarming rate of stunted Yemeni children suffering from severe malnutrition.

After drawing such a gloomy picture, there is a bright side after all.

Today the second Arab Regional Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect kicks off. The conference is organized by the Yemeni Higher Council for Motherhood and Childhood and ASPCAN. It is under the theme “Let us work together to protect children in the Arab World”.

Yes, the challenges are high, yet when committed people come together in order to make a better future for our children, hope rises above the challenges and conquers all.