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Children Paying the Price in Yemen’s War

Violence is just one of the many reasons the war in Yemen has crippled the country's ability to educate children

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Children, Yemen's War
Aid organizations have called the humanitarian crisis in Yemen the worst in the world, and a "war on children." Pictured in Sanaa, Yemen, April 20, 2019. VOA

When the blast went off in early April, shrapnel hit homes and schools all over the quiet residential neighborhood of the Yemeni capital.

Windows shattered and the 2,000 girls in a nearby school tried to evacuate at once, many racing down the stairs and some dying in the stampede.

Safia Al-Wesabi, a 10-year-old student of the Al-Ra’ai School, made it out safely, but she couldn’t find her older, teen-aged sister outside. “I was sobbing,” she said. “I thought she was trampled to death.”

​More than 15 children were killed and 100 other people injured that day, but violence is just one of the many reasons the war in Yemen has crippled the country’s ability to educate children, and often even keep them alive. As Yemen’s conflict goes into a fifth year, aid organizations are calling it a “war on children.”

Children, Yemen's War
Safia Al-Wesabi, a 10-year-old student of the Al Ra’ai School, survived a blast that killed 15 children and injured 100 children and adults in Sanaa, Yemen in early April, pictured on April 20, 2019. VOA

“We are at a tipping point,” said Henrietta Fore, the executive director of UNICEF in a recent speech. “If the war continues any longer, the country may move past the point of no return. … How long will we continue allowing Yemen to slide into oblivion?”

Missing school and health care

As the children fled flying glass and shrapnel at their school last month, Hamid Al Wesabi, Safia’s father, was in his home located on a hill nearby. His house shook and the windows broke. He ran to the school to find his daughters. “We didn’t know what was happening,” he said.

Later that day, both the girls and their father escaped the chaos and reunited at home.

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A few weeks later, the school was open again for final exams and Wesabi’s daughters went back. Many others chose not to return.

At least one in five schools is no longer in use in Yemen, mostly because they were destroyed by violence or are now being used as emergency shelters or military bases.

​Hospitals also have shut down at alarming rates and roughly half of Yemeni children under age 5 have been permanently injured by malnutrition. Every 10 minutes a child in Yemen dies from a preventable cause, according to a recent UNICEF report.

Teachers’ salaries are often not being paid, forcing many to look for other jobs. Sometimes children are simply too afraid to go to school, the report says.

Children, Yemen's War
Hamid Al Wesabi and Safia are pictured by their home after a blast nearby shook the house and broke the windows in Sanaa, Yemen, April 20, 2019. VOA

​As a result, Yemeni children are increasingly recruited to fight in militias, work at other adult jobs or married off at young ages. “If not in school, children would become an illiterate and unskilled parent and increasing the likelihood of passing on poverty to the next generation,” it reads.

Safia took her exams but her text books were lost in the blast, so she could not prepare.

Other children were not so lucky. Sitting next to Safia at a wooden desk, 8-year-old Bayan appeared absent-minded when asked about her older sister, who was killed in the crush of girls trying to escape. An adult asked if she missed her sister.

“Yes,” she managed to say quietly.

Humanitarian crisis deepens

The war in Yemen is between the Houthis, who currently hold the north, including the capital Sanaa, and forces loyal to the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was forced from the capital in 2015 and is recognized as the Yemeni president by the United Nations.

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These are hardly the only players in this war, which has left many world powers mired in proxy battles. Iran is known to support the Houthis, whose longest-held territories are near the border with Saudi Arabia, Iran’s archenemy.

Saudi Arabia and its allies have been launching airstrikes targeting the Houthis — often in locations populated by civilians — for four years now with support from Western powers like the United States and Britain. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, many of them civilians, including children.

Children, Yemen's War
Eight-year-old Bayan, right, lost her older sister when 2,000 girls tried to evacuate their school at the same time, in Sanaa, Yemen, pictured April 20, 2019. VOA

Already the Arab world’s poorest country, this battle has turned Yemen into what many call the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, with the threat of widespread famine now looming as peace talks continue to be derailed. Last week, a cease-fire in a key port city broke down, exacerbating the threat as food and aid remained stalled outside the country by the war.

It is not clear as to who or what caused the blast that hit the school last month, with pro-Saudi news reporting an airstrike, and later deleting the report, according to Human Rights Watch.The organization says Houthi authorities were storing dangerous material in a civilian neighborhood.

Children, Yemen's War
After the blast, teachers said they felt obligated to return to school despite their fears, to encourage children to do the same, in Sanaa, Yemen, April 20, 2019. VOA

Besides violence, hunger, and disease, children in Yemen are also deeply threatened by the psychological trauma they are experiencing, according to Fathia al-Kuhlani, the principal of the Al Ra’ai School in Sanaa.

“After trauma, if students don’t go back to school, anxiety can lead to depression,” she said. “It was hard even for us to enter the school the day after the strike, but we needed to come to encourage the students to come back.” (VOA)

Next Story

Watching TV Increases Risk of Obesity among Kids: Study

TV watching most strongly linked to obesity in kids

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obesity
Identifying habits linked to overweight and obesity in the early stages of life can help us to define preventive strategies against other conditions. Pixabay

Parents, please take note. Among the lifestyle habits that influence the risk of overweight and obesity in children, watching television is the worst, suggests new research.

“Identifying habits linked to overweight and obesity in the early stages of life can help us to define preventive strategies against other conditions, such as cardiovascular and metabolic diseases during adulthood,” said lead author of the study Rowaedh Bawaked, researcher at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute in Spain.

The researchers analysed five lifestyle habits: physical activity, sleep time, television time, plant-based food consumption and ultra-processed food consumption.

Kids obesity tv
Researchers found that watching tv has serious effects such as obesity. Pixabay

The study, published in the journal Pediatric Obesity, was based on data from 1,480 children.

Parents were asked to complete various questionnaires on the children’s lifestyle habits at four years of age.

To calculate the health impact of these habits, the researchers measured the children’s body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and blood pressure at four and seven years of age.

Children who were less active and spent more time in front of the television at four years of age were at greater risk of being affected by overweight, obesity and metabolic syndrome at seven years of age, showed the findings.

The researchers also measured the time spent by the children on other sedentary activities, such as reading, drawing and doing puzzles. However, these activities did not appear to be associated with overweight or obesity.

“When children watch TV, they see a huge number of advertisements for unhealthy food,” said co-leader of the study Dora Romaguera from Barcelona Institute for Global Health in Spain.

tv obesity
Another reason why watching tv leads to obesity is that the commercials of junk food attracts kids. Pixabay

“This may encourage them to consume these products,” Romaguera said.

Ultra-processed foods, such as pastries, sweet beverages and refined-grain products, are high in sugar, salt and saturated fat and low in nutritional value.

The study showed that high intake of these products at four years of age was associated with a higher BMI at seven years of age.

Moreover, television viewing “discourages physical activity and interrupts sleep time”, explained Silvia Fernandez, a post-doctoral researcher at Barcelona Institute for Global Health.

As the researchers noted, adequate sleep time in early childhood is essential for weight control later in childhood.

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The study concluded that adult health depends on the establishment of healthy lifestyle habits during childhood: limited television time, extracurricular physical activity, getting enough hours of sleep, eating lots of vegetables and avoiding ultra-processed foods. (IANS)