Rabat – Boys as young as eight have been raped in the war-torn Yemeni city of Ta’iz, said Amnesty International in a new report. The suspected perpetrators, who include Saudi-backed militiamen, have yet to be held accountable.
Amnesty reported the rape of three boys and the sexual assault of a fourth in Ta’iz in the past eight months. The families of all four boys reported the cases to the Criminal Investigations Department, but authorities have yet to take action.
In two of the four cases, families claim that the perpetrators were members of Islahi-backed militias.
Al-Islah is a Yemeni Islamist party which acts in support of the Saudi-led Coalition and Yemeni government. The party controls large portions of local authorities in Ta’iz.
Two civilian suspects have been detained and are awaiting trial but none of the militia-connected suspects in the other two cases have faced any consequences.
The mother of the 8-year-old told Amnesty International that her son had been raped at the mosque on two occasions, in June and October 2018, by the son of a local Ishali imam and his friend. His mother says that the boy “now suffers from a sleeping disorder and is prone to uncontrollable crying and screaming.”
According to his family, a 13-year-old was raped at the mosque by the same two men.
Another boy says he was attacked by an Islahi-aligned militiaman who beat him, held him at gunpoint, and raped him.
This 16-year-old boy’s mother described his return home after the assault: “He just sat there staring into space. He was unable to sit afterward to go to the bathroom for three days.”
The fourth boy, a 12-year-old, was assaulted in July 2018 but managed to escape before he was raped. In his escape, the boy shot and killed his attacker, a member of the Islahi militia.
Despite reporting the incident to the authorities, the family received no protection. Two days after the initial attack, militiamen belonging to the same group as the original man attacked the family of the boy in their home. Three members of the family were killed and one was injured.
Amnesty International reported the likelihood that there are many more cases than the four which have been reported. Families are discouraged from reporting any attacks for fear of reprisals such as the one faced by the family of the 12-year-old. The unwillingness to report is strengthened by a pattern of impunity granted to many members of the militia.
The city of Ta’iz has experienced intermittent clashes between Yemeni rebels and forces loyal to the Coalition and Yemeni government since 2015. In the four years of conflict, the violence has only intensified as militias have thrived in the chaos of the ongoing conflict. Ta’iz is widely considered a humanitarian disaster.
Fighting in Yemen has left 6,800 civilians dead and more than 10,000 injured.
According to the Yemen Data Project and Save the Children, there have been more than 18,000 air raids since the beginning of the war in 2015. This means that children born in Yemen as the conflict broke out have lived through an average of 14 air raids per day.
In reference to the rape cases, Heba Morayef, the regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said that “The heartbreaking testimonies of these young survivors and their families expose how the ongoing conflict has rendered children vulnerable to being sexually exploited in a city plagued by weak security and institutions.”
UN reports that sexual violence against boys and men during armed conflicts is common but underreported. Because of this underreporting, boys are left vulnerable without sufficient prevention and protection strategies.
Save the Children spokesperson Bhanu Bhatnagar said that “Yemen is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a child today.”