The room looks exactly as he left it 3 months ago. His personal belongings lie as they were, folded neatly where he put them on his bed. A desolate mother sits in the middle of all his memories. Miryam lost her son Mohammed to a conflict he should never have been a part of. His loss has plunged Miryam’s world into a dark place of sorrow and regret.
“My son Mohammed, was only 15 when he was killed. He used to love sports and poetry and always stood first in class. My child has been taken away from me early, without even me having the chance to grieve for him.” Miryam speaks sadly.
Her story is but a reflection of the tragic times for many families who are coping with the loss of their children who were recruited as soldiers in Yemen’s on-going conflict.
At least 796 children have been killed and 1151 injured since the escalation of violence in Yemen which began on 26 March 2015.
Miryam is a single mother of 4 children from Malla district in Aden. She barely manages to support the family financially with her meagre government salary. Despite her scant resources she is known to the whole neighbourhood as a strong woman and is deeply respected as a mother. “I brought up my children with dignity, I never sought charity or support, I worked around the clock to support my family. I wanted them to grow feeling proud of me as I will always be proud of them,” she says.
Mohammed was a teenager when the conflict flared in Aden. He joined an armed group in May 2015 when his city Malla was surrounded by the militia.
“I am 3 years older than Mohammed, but for me he was a grown-up man, a father, a friend and supporter. He always gave us a sense of security and love. But he had no choice. With all the pressure around him, he decided to pick up a weapon and go into battle. A child, inexperienced in fighting was dragged into a cruel end.” Jehad, Mohammed’s sister tells us.
During his days with the armed group, Mohammed was also in contact with his family, which had to move out when the conflict peaked in Malla, followed by the outbreak of dengue fever.
“I keep asking myself why my son has taken such path. Why was he desperate to do it? Did he feel pressured by the circumstance and people around him?
Now I recall all the memories. His isolation in his room, his eyes that were full of tears. Maybe he needed a helping hand, a shoulder to lean on during the traumatising times he experienced at such an early age,” Miryam says with tears.
There has been a spike in the recruitment and use of children, primarily boys, by armed forces and groups. UNICEF estimates that between March 2015 and January 2016, at least 738 boys were recruited by parties to the conflict as child soldiers in the last year, a five-fold increase compared to 2014 where the UN recorded 156 cases of child recruitment.
Miryam says, “For me my son is still a hero who fought bravely despite his young age. My son is a hero who was forced into a destiny that caused him to lose his life. At the same time, my son is a victim of this crazy world, the victim of war and unrest.”
Ansar Rahseed works in the Programme Section of UNICEF’s Aden, Yemen office