Amidst Civil War, Both Parties In Yemen Agree To Release Child Prisoners

A step in the right direction.

After seven weeks of negotiations, warring sides in Yemen have agreed to an unconditional release of all child prisoners, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the U.N. envoy to Yemen, announced on Monday.

The news comes after the Houthi rebel group — an Iranian ally — and Yemen's Saudi-backed government faced pressure from the United Nations to come to terms on a prisoner release deal coinciding with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Reuters reported.

"The unconditional release of children was agreed, and the mechanics of the release of detainees in the coming days was addressed," Ould Cheikh Ahmed wrote on Twitter.

While there is no concrete number of how many child prisoners exist, UNICEF has said that 900 Yemeni children have been killed and 1,300 have been wounded in 2015 alone, thanks to the use of child soldiers. Yemeni political sources estimate that 7,000 prisoners are being held by both sides, and at least 6,200 people have been killed since the war began in 2015.

Bill van Esveld, senior researcher of children's rights at Human Rights Watch, insisted that we have to stay focused until the release is actually completed. But if and when it does happen, it will be monumental.

"We have seen some children released in previous prisoner exchanges, but this could be the largest single release," Esveld told A Plus. "The fact that the parties reportedly agreed specifically to an unconditional release of all children sends a positive signal that all sides recognize the particular urgency of letting children get back to their families and start to rebuild their lives."

Esveld added that the use of child soldiers is in direct violation of international law, as dictated by the Paris Principles on Children Associated with Armed Conflict

Last week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon added the Saudi-led side to an annual blacklist of armed groups that violate children's rights in conflict, claiming the group was responsible for 60 percent of all child deaths in the war over the course of 2015. 

According to ABC News, the U.N. had been trying to encourage the release of all prisoners before the holy month began on Monday. Unfortunately, there has been little progress in the peace talks, which have been taking place in Kuwait. 

UNICEF did not immediately respond to A Plus' request for comment.

Cover photo of children in Al Hajarah, Yemen via Claudiovidri / Shutterstock.com