Yemeni Children are Victims of the World’s ‘Forgotten’ War
“My seven-month-old child died of hunger, after spending half his life sick,” said Abdo Ali Nasser, a Yemeni father mourning the loss of his infant son, Firas, to severe malnutrition. “My baby’s illness began when he was five months old, two months later, we moved to the city of Taizz to treat him after his condition reached a serious stage of acute malnutrition, and he died about half a month after entering intensive care.”
Nasser’s tragic narrative is not an isolated incident but a common refrain in Yemen, a country grappling with the worst humanitarian crisis in the world following the outbreak of war in 2014.
United Nations reports paint a dire picture: more than 23.4 million people, including 12.9 million children, need humanitarian assistance—this represents about three-quarters of the population. The figures are stark, with approximately 2.2 million children affected by acute malnutrition. Yemen’s heavy reliance on imports for over 90% of its basic needs has made it particularly vulnerable to international market fluctuations. Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine has only intensified the struggle, driving up prices of imported goods and placing new, unsustainable burdens on the Yemeni populace. Within this group, 540,000 children under five are battling severe acute malnutrition, and over 17.8 million Yemenis, including 9.2 million children, lack access to clean water and sanitation.
After eight years of relentless conflict, Yemen’s national social and economic infrastructures are on the brink of collapse. Families are left exposed to the ravages of infectious diseases due to the compounding effects of conflict, large-scale displacement, and recurring climate shocks. The lack of access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene services has resulted in the country suffering from successive outbreaks of cholera, measles, diphtheria, and other preventable diseases. The ongoing humanitarian crisis has escalated the vulnerability of children to exploitation, violence, and abuse, including child labor, killing, maiming, domestic and gender-based violence, child marriage, and psychosocial distress. Furthermore, the warring factions continue to recruit children as soldiers, perpetuating a cycle of violence and exploitation.
The United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, warns that millions of Yemeni children are still on the brink of famine, with no end to the war in sight. Approximately six million children are only one step away from starvation and in dire need of urgent support. The phenomenon of child labor is expanding as families, crippled by the ongoing conflict and its devastating effects on the country’s economy, are forced to send their children to work. Reports from international and local organizations indicate that the incidence of child labor has quadrupled since the conflict began. With more than eighty percent of the population living in poverty, many Yemeni families have resorted to child labor as a means to confront the stark realities of life.
The situation is also grim in the realm of education, with more than 2,783 schools damaged or destroyed, and educators going unpaid for nearly eight years. Save the Children affirms that more than 2.7 million children are out of school, the majority of whom are displaced. Conflict, frequent disruptions to education, and the fragmentation of the educational system have had profound effects on learning, as well as on the cognitive and emotional development and mental health of 10.6 million school-age children in Yemen. In addition to these challenges, the quality of education has significantly deteriorated, with the necessary educational environment lacking and scientific curricula being replaced by substandard curricula.
Thus, as the world’s attention drifts, the plight of Yemeni children serves as a heart-wrenching testament to the consequences of a war that remains largely ignored. Their suffering, a repercussion of a global power struggle and economic fragility, calls for a committed and empathetic global response.