Co-written with: Beatriz Ochoa, Advocacy Officer, Save the Children in Yemen
Amal* is a 13-year-old girl and the eldest of three children. She has seen things no child should ever see. Forced to flee Taiz (a city in Southern Yemen) with her family, and after spending half a month living on the streets, Amal’s father found a closed internet café for his family to live in- and survive.
A typical day in the life of Amal begins like this: she wakes up her 11 year-old brother, Ali*, and her 9- year-old sister, Fatima*, huddled together on the floor of a tiny room. It is cold. The children don’t have enough blankets to keep them warm. Amal cooks rice and makes tea for the family in their new shelter- they have nothing else to eat. No cooking gas. They use paper to light the fire. Sometimes they go hungry.
Amal is now out of school. She was amongst the top students: head of the class and her teacher’s favourite. She recalls vividly the day her school was targeted by a missile whilst in school: “That day I was with my friend…the missile hit. They killed potato sellers, sweet sellers. They killed everything. No one survived.” She remembers crawling home, running under a table and managing to escape. “I wish to continue my school and learn,” she adds, “I hope the war ends. I want to go back to my school, my village. I wish my mother gets better, to be treated in a hospital.”
Part of the family’s daily struggles include sickness. Amal’s little sister is diabetic and her mother suffers from liver cirrhosis as a result of the calamity of what they have suffered. Part of their daily struggle includes caring for Amal’s mother, who is very ill and, in a country where the health system is about to collapse, their situation is dire. “Our situation now is devastating,” says Amal’s father. With tears in his eyes he tells of how he sold the cooking gas cylinder and the earrings of his little child to buy medicine for his wife.
The horror of what Amal and her family have witnessed are unspeakable. Their homes shattered; their education destroyed; their loved ones wounded or dying before their eyes. In an effort to restore some normality to their lives Amal’s father walks his children to Save the Children’s Child Friendly Spaces. They walk 9.7 km and it takes them 4 hours to get there. He exclaims: “You wouldn’t believe me if I tell you that I walk with my children to a Child Friendly Space… on foot! So that they get better; so that they forget what they saw. The children love it there; but it is too far to travel every day.”
Investing in children like Amal is vital in order to ensure that in a war-ridden country such as Yemen, every child’s right to survive, learn and be protected is honoured. Since the escalation of the conflict in March 2015, violence has killed more than 4,000 civilians, including 1,219 children, and has injured nearly 7,000, including 1,826 children. 1.7 million children under the age of 5 - that’s more than one in three- are now suffering from acute malnutrition, with 462,000 children severely acutely malnourished, making Yemen the country with the highest number of people in humanitarian need in the world right now. With no end in sight.
The conflict in Yemen is also disrupting children’s right to education. Amal is one of the two million children that are out of school. Currently, about 1,600 schools cannot be used due to conflict related damage, presence of displaced people or occupation by armed groups.
On the 20th of November the United Nations celebrates the day in which the Assembly adopted the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon states: “This year I wish to emphasise the importance of ensuring that the commitments made by the international community to the world’s children are extended to a group of children who are often forgotten or overlooked: those deprived of their liberty.” Yemen is a children’s emergency: out of the 18.7 million people in need in Yemen, 10.3 million -or 55%- are children.
In response to this Save the Children have been working tirelessly in order to provide basic services, including:
- Running 6 mobile health clinics and providing support to 60 fixed health facilities.
- Responding to the needs of children by providing life-saving treatment for Moderate and Severe Acute Malnutrition.
- Crucial health and hygiene support including training community mobilisers on how to prevent common children’s diseases.
- Cash and voucher distributions in response to the food security crisis in the worst affected areas, as well as livelihood restoration and ensuring people have access to income-generating activities.
- Essential services in quality monitoring, sanitation and water storage facilities (given that 14.4 million people, or 52% of the population, lack access to safe water or sanitation).
- Child protection in emergencies including the opening of Child Friendly Spaces, conducting activities associated with protection of children with active community engagement, and running national radio campaigns to raise awareness on children’s rights in emergencies.
- Back to School Campaign and mine risk awareness sessions in schools.
Despite this, in 2016, the Yemen crisis only received half of the funding necessary in order to provide these essential services to Yemen’s forgotten children. The psychological impacts of this level of violence, let alone the damage to infrastructure, livelihoods and services, are on a colossal scale and likely to have long-term implications for too many children. Investment in children is therefore paramount if we are to give girls like Amal the future she deserves.
* indicates where names have been changed for protection purposes.
Photo credits and storyline: Mohammed Awadh
 Verified children causalities as reported by MRM data, from 26 March 2015 to 30 September 2016.