January 5, 2019 1:05 pm
Updated: January 5, 2019 1:11 pm

Saudi Arabia denies recruiting Sudanese child soldiers to fight in Yemen

Sudanese soldiers fighting alongside Yemen's Saudi-backed pro-government forces salute beside a road near Al-Jah, Yemen, June 22, 2018.

SALEH AL-OBEIDI/AFP/Getty Images
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Saudi Arabia has “strongly objected” to a report that it recruited child soldiers from Sudan‘s war-ravaged Darfur region to fight in Yemen, instead accusing Houthi rebels of using underage Yemeni fighters.

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The New York Times reported that Saudi Arabia offered impoverished Sudanese families up to $10,000 to send their children to fight in the nearly four-year-old war against the Iran-backed Houthis.

“Families know that the only way their lives will change is if their sons join the war and bring them back money,” the New York Times quoted one Sudanese child soldier as saying.

READ MORE: In Yemen, corruption keeps food and aid from reaching those in need

Sudanese fighters told the New York Times that children made up at least 20 per cent — in some cases, over 40 per cent — of their battalions in Yemen, where Sudan has dispatched thousands of troops to assist the Saudi-led alliance.

The fighters reportedly said they were effectively treated as “firewood” to shield Saudi and Emirati troops from casualties, with Saudi commanders ordering Sudanese units almost exclusively by remote control.

WATCH: U.S. wants to continue support for Saudi-led coalition in Yemen

However, the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C. said the New York Times story was lacking in evidence and relying on unsubstantiated claims.

“Saudi Arabia does not deploy children as fighters. Furthermore, the Kingdom examined the records of all military personnel that have been deployed through Saudi Arabia as part of military operations in Yemen and has determined that there are no underage personnel,” read the statement.

“Unlike the uncorroborated allegations in the article, the Houthis’ forced recruitment of children is well documented by international organizations and human right organizations,” it added.

“If there is a party to the Yemen conflict that has become infamous for routinely exploiting child soldiers, it is the Houthi militia.”

Indeed, the recruitment of child soldiers by the Houthis has been widely documented by organizations such as Amnesty International.

In this July 16, 2017 file photo, a Yemeni boy poses with an assault rifle during a gathering of newly-recruited Houthi fighters in the Yemeni capital Sanaa.

MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia said that not only does it not use child soldiers, it is actively working to rehabilitate Yemeni child soldiers recruited by the Houthis.

On Friday, the government-run Saudi Press Agency lauded the Saudi government for launching “a number of initiatives to rehabilitate Yemeni children and return them to schools.”

READ MORE: These child soldiers are ‘firewood’ for the war in Yemen

Prince Khalid bin Salman — Saudi ambassador to the U.S. and the 31-year-old brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — pointed out that Saudi Arabia had rehabilitated hundreds of Yemeni children, the Saudi Press Agency said.

Prince Khalid urged the international media to “play a real role in contributing to the cessation of this serious violation being committed by Houthi militias,” the press agency said.

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