Children chant the Houthi slogan in North Yemen (Houthi Media)

Generations of War in the Houthi Summer Camps for Children


Sat, 27-05-2023 11:12 AM, Aden Time

"The Houthis to attract children and mobilize them in these summer camps which serve as sectarian camps to brainwash them with the Houthis ideology"

Raad Alrimi (South24)

On April 29, the Iran-backed Houthis announced the establishment of the summer camp program for children and teens in Sanaa and other Northern governorates for the year 1444 AH [2022-2023]. The group said that 733,722 boy and girl students joined these camps which are held during the summer holidays between the school seasons.

These numbers, issued by the Houthis, have again stirred major concerns towards a wide-range extensive ideological and intellectual mobilization process which targets children and teens from both gender in North Yemen. Photos and videos for these children while chanting the Houthi political, sectarian and religious slogans ["God is great, death to the US, death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory for Islam"] have enhanced these fears. 

Previously, the Houthis made large amendments and changes in the curricula of the primary and secondary stages in areas under their control. A report, issued by “South24 Center”, featured several examples of these changes which includes sectarian and religious texts and photos as well as incitement to fight and participate in the war fronts. 

The Houthi version of Saba news agency claimed that “the number of male and female students interested in the summer program for the current Hijri year (the Houthis officially adopted the Hijri calendar instead of the Gregorian one in August 2021) reached 1.5 million” according to Abdullah Al-Razhi, the Ministry of Youth undersecretary in Sanaa.

Female children chanting the Houthi slogan, known as “the chant”, in a female summer camp in Hajjah governorate (Houthis' Saba Agency)

Old strategy

According to Abdu Al-Hudhaifi, the Chairman of Mayyun Organization for Human Rights and Development, these summer courses are a vintage strategy adopted by the Houthi for decades. 

He told “South24 Center”: “The emergence of these Houthi summer camps dates back to before 1990, during the group’s secret phase. They represented one of the latter’s basic incubators for launching its essence. These camps aim at prioritizing killing and fighting in the minds of children and teens as well as creating a war society". 

Al-Hudhaifi’s view is compatible with a tweet by the Houthi leader Mohammed Al-Nuaimi who wrote: “Those who confronted the 6 wars against the people of Saada graduated from these camps. Most of those who engaged in the war, launched by the Coalition for 8 years, graduated or benefited from these summer camps”.

Al-Hudhaifi doubted the Houthi statistics about the number of children in the summer camps. He said: “These numbers are exaggerated. It aims at pushing more children to join. The number of those who joined them last year didn’t exceed 50,000 based on our observation of the summer camps while the Houthi militias talk about 800,000”.

The system of courses

Exclusive sources who have direct links with the Houthi summer camps told “South24 Center” that the Houthis divide the summer courses into “open courses” and “closed courses”. The sources indicated that the open courses are held in the morning for some hours and children then return to their homes. 

On the contrary, the “closed courses” are delivered to children and teens in Houthi-funded facilities and they take a longer time. The sources claimed that the students there receive intensified and variable training including how to use weapons. Additionally, all closed and open courses contain sectarian and political mobilization. 

The sources disclosed the existence of “traditional summer camps” where there are rooms for accommodation and food service funded by the Houthis. It is compulsory for children and adolescents to stay there for 45 days. 

Moreover, there are similar summer camps where there is no compulsory accommodation. They often have links with the “Islamic Forum” in Hajjah, Saleh Mosque in Sanaa and the scientific center “Badr” in Sanaa which was founded by the prominent Zaydi religious sheikh Al-Murtada Al-Mahatwari. 

The ideologization and mobilization

The Houthi summer courses for children include teaching the radical speeches of the late Houthi founder Hussein Badr Al-Din Al-Houthi who is the brother of the current Houthi Leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi. They also focus on instilling sectarian ideas that largely match the Iranian "Twelve Doctrine" according to exclusive sources who spoke to “South24 Center”.

They said that the Houthis incite children and teens to join the battle fronts to fight what they describe as “aggression and mercenaries” in an indication to the Arab Coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the internationally-recognized government. Additionally, they focus on issues such as Palestine and Al-Quds [Jerusalem] that motivate the passion and enthusiasm of participants. 

The ideologization and mobilization process in the Houthi summer camps is not apparently very confidential. Houthi-affiliate media outlets publish pictures and videos on a regular basis for children while chanting the Houthis slogans and talking about “jihad”, war and battle fronts.

In this regard, Al-Hudhaifi said: “Most of the recruited children in Yemen are recruited through the Houthi summer camps and educational programs. The establishment of the summer camps at the level of governorates and districts integrates with the Houthi recruitment program in schools and other places”. 

Essam Al-Ahmadi, the head of the Association of Yemeni Social Workers warned of creating extremist generations by the Houthis. He told “South24 Center”: “Children are the most vulnerable group to polarization and responding to intellectual mobilization, especially in such circumstances in which our Yemeni society lives”.

“This helped the Houthis to attract children and mobilize them in the summer camps which serve as sectarian camps for brainwashing and publishing the wrong ideas that are compatible with the Houthi approach in a way that constitutes a psychological social pressure on children,” he added.

Al-Ahmadi believes that “all of these practices limit the children's creative, intellectual and cognitive abilities. Therefore, this produces an extremist parochial generation who is full of misconceptions. This transforms children to be future time bombs which threaten security and social peace”.

In June 2022, Minister of Endowments (Awkaf) in the Yemeni government Mohammed Aida accused the Houthis of teaching the books of the famous Shia Imam Khomeini. He told the press: “These camps and facilities are places where they fuel the young people’s minds with their Iranian sectarian Khomeni curriculum. This is the approach adopted by the Houthis for a long time”.

Ahmed Al-Qurashi, the head of Seyaj Organization for Childhood Protection said that “the practices of these summer courses are a sort of education scraping”. He told “South24 Center”: “Education suffered and continue to suffer from large shoveling operations during the war that began more than 8 years ago”.

“According to the UN’s estimates, nearly 4 million children lost the right to education and this number can increase to 6 million. This would lead to grave problems in the Yemeni society and neighboring countries in the fields of security, stability, peace and development over the next decades,” he added.
Child fighters within the Houthi ranks (Getty Images)

“South24 Center” tried to contact senior Houthi officials to inquire about these courses and camps but we didn’t receive any response.

In press statements, Houthi Youth Minister and the Head of the Higher Committee for summer courses Mohammed Al-Moayedi said: “These courses serve as safe national, religious, educational and cognitive incubators for generations to receive useful sciences and knowledge”.

International condemnations

On Jan 25, the Panel of Experts on Yemen submitted its report to the UNSC for the year 2021. Early that year, “South24 Center” exclusively published the draft report which included details about the Houthi ideological campaign.

The report mentioned the summer courses used by the Houthis to incite children and residents in order to participate with them in the fronts. In June 2022, Lana Nusseibeh, The Permanent UAE Representative to United Nations said - during a session held by the Security Council -  that the Houthis “continue their campaigns to spread extremist ideology among children through the summer camps in spite of the UN truce".

In its “Report on International Religious Freedom in the world 2022”, which was partially translated by “South24 Center”, the US Department of State said: “Houthi militia leaders recruited children under the age of 18 as soldiers by enticing them, sometimes with promises of money, to participate in militia-led religious orientations, which aim at inculcating Houthi militia’s ideas in the children’s minds and swaying them into the importance of fighting in the ranks of the group.”

In July 2022, the UN removed the Yemeni government forces from the list of parties involved in committing violations against children through the conflicts. On the other hand, it kept the Houthis in the list. 

In light of the ongoing Houthi military and administrative control on most parts of North Yemen, which is not likely to end soon, it seems that the Houthi summer camps will continue their non-stop activities. This would double the broad current crisis. 

The sectarian and political mobilization threatens to increase the divisions of society in North Yemen and to enhance sectarianism that Yemen has not known before. The risks extend to incite full generations in North against South with the growing extremist religious discourse by Houthi leaders regarding the Yemeni unity. 

Raad Alrimi 

Journalist at South24 Center for News and Studies

SanaaNorth YemenHouthisIranChild recruitmentSummer camp