With face expressions filled with pain, oppression, and injustice - at a time when the oppressed no longer finds justice, even at the court - Fatima Ahmed (a pseudonym), tells "Khuyut", about her six-year-old niece who was raped by a human wolf in his fifties. The rapist took advantage of the child virtue and her trust in him; as she knows him very well, but he violated her childhood in a moment when he was stripped of everything but his brutality.
The family, who was displaced from Al-Hodeidah Governorate (western Yemen) to Abyan Governorate (southern Yemen), did not imagine that they were escaping from death to another hell. The innocent girl, who only knew the neighborhood where she lives and its inhabitants, did not realize that there was a wolf among them seizing the opportunity to assault her childhood and damage her life.
This is how Fatima narrates the details of the incident to Khuyut with tearful eyes and a lump in her throat as she said: “Amal (a pseudonym) went out to play and have fun with her peers as she used to. We never expected that she might get hurt; she used to go out to play near the house which used to be safe neighborhood."
Children in Yemen are exposed to various types of abuses in all governorates, including Abyan (south of the country), which is witnessing an increasing number of children raping cases as revealed by a report released by the Yemen Women Union, which indicated that 34 rape cases have been reported in 2022.
Moreover, figures confirm that the situation has become more critical, and requires serious and tangible actions by the concerned authorities. However, due to the deterioration of overall conditions in the country, and the failure of the judicial authorities to resolve such matters, cases of violations are constantly increasing.
Fatima continued by saying: "That day, she came back home earlier than the usual time, but she came with abused body and horrible look and in a shabby appearance. Her face features suggested that some catastrophe had befallen her, but we were trying to distract our thoughts about what had really happened. We took her to the hospital, and there the specialist doctor confirmed our fears, and told us that our child had been brutally raped and she has to remain in the hospital for some days".
The news fell on the grieving family like a thunderbolt, and everything became blurry in front of them, their pain mixed with irritation, and many questions that soon increased their confusion and oppression, according to this distressed woman story. Thus, the family stayed for two days waiting for the improvement of the health condition of the child - who was close to death – a waiting loaded with bitterness and uncertainty.
The high rate of child abuses in Abyan governorate made the parents live in a state of panic, which forced them and many activists to organize a protest to demand accountability for child abusers and the imposition of maximum penalties against them.
"Through Amal's description of the rapist, we got to know that the perpetrator was a man who lived in the close neighborhood, whom we used to see daily so that he is very familiar to us. Therefore, we hurried to inform the security authorities, and he was arrested. Unfortunately, no action has been taken against him until now, despite our vigorous follow-up, and this increased our pain and frustration." Fatima concluded her story to Khuyut.
Escalating rape rates
Amal is not the only child whose life was awfully damaged and her innocence violated, but she is one of dozens of children who have been raped in Abyan governorate in the recent years, as thirteen cases of sexual assault of children under twelve were recorded in December 2022.
In a related context, Mrs. Nour Ahmed (a pseudonym) told us that her daughter was subjected to an attempt of harassment, from which she miraculously escaped. Nour regretted the poor and irresponsible reactions by the concerned authorities to the complaint she submitted against the person who tried to assault her daughter. She further confirmed that the harasser has escaped punishment, as result of recklessness of those concerned with the case, and the failure to take any disciplinary measures against the abuser.
The children of Yemen continue to pay a heavy price for the current situation produced by the war and the raging conflict in the country since 2015 which resulted in their exposure to multiple forms of violations of their childhood, including killing, maiming, recruitment and sexual violence.
Adila Al-Khadher, Secretary-General of the Yemen Women Union office in Abyan, reveals a frightening upsurge in cases of sexual assaults against children in recent years. She indicated that the number of children who were raped during 2022, according to monitoring reports prepared by the union's office, reached 34 cases, all of them Children under fifteen.
In a statement to "Khuyut", Al-Khadher confirmed that the Yemen Women Union in Abyan provides the necessary support for the GBV and abused cases that are monitored, including psychological, material and legal support, as the Union is very concerned of filing and following up cases against harassers in front of courts. She said that the Union also provides psychological support to abused children through psychologists and social specialists in order to help the child overcome his/her psychological shock, and return to practicing his/her life as normally as possible.
In a report issued in 2012, the United Nations revealed that 4,418 grave violations were committed against 1,287 children in Yemen (944 boys and 343 girls) of which 63 grave violations against 54 children (43 boys and 11 girls) have been verified in the recent years in which the country has been witnessing war and armed conflict for about six years.
The high rate of violations against children in Abyan governorate made the people live in a state of panic, which forced them and many activists to organize joint protests in front of the local authority offices in the Khanfar district, Abyan governorate in December 18 of last year - During which they demanded that child abusers be held accountable, and maximum penalties be imposed against violators.
In the context, Bushra Al-Sa'adi, a community activist and chairwoman of the (Together We Rise Foundation for Women and Child Care), pointed out the recent high rate of child abuse in various areas of Abyan Governorate due to the absolute absence of the role of law and the competent authorities.
The security chaos that the country is going through in general, as a result of the war and its consequences, which cast a shadow on various aspects of life, and weakened the authority of the state and the law, led to the deterioration of the situation in various aspects, and made many rights taken away without deterrent penalties, which made crime rates rise dramatically.
Al-Sa'adi confirmed to "Khuyut" that the efforts will continue - by their institution which is concerned with women's and children's affairs - to escalate and support cases of child abuse, to impose maximum penalties on the aggressors. She emphasized that tireless coordination with the local authorities and decision-makers in the governorate are ongoing, to take the issues of childhood violations seriously, to sense the risks that threaten the children of the governorate as well as taking strict measures in order to put an end to this phenomenon that has spread in the Abyan society in a way that causes wide social concern.
According to human rights activists, many cases of violations in Abyan governorate were met with adjournment by the relevant authorities, only to be in vain, amid the inaction of the judiciary, which did not provide adequate protection for the victims or redress for the assaults they were subjected to.
Some of the parents did not stand arms folded in the face of what their children were subjected to, and they strived to report the aggressors, and to follow up until the case is referred to the judiciary, in order to decide on it and impose the maximum penalties on the assailants. This comes despite the weak response of the judiciary, as there are many cases of violation that end or closed without being investigated due to the fear of the families of the victims of the scandal that may stick on them and their child for life. According to the family of one of the abused children, such social tradition which is mainly attributed to the illiteracy and cruelty of society negatively affect the victim and protect the abuser.
Consequently, the abused child is left on the verge of pain, attracted by fear and panic, and many feelings and questions, as some insist on blaming the children; which exposes them to distress, and to restrain disclosure if someone is exposed to something unpleasant, which makes them a prey for the psychologically disturbed human wolves.
As a result of the injustice that the abused child is exposed to from society, and the shame that haunts him, many parents have been forced to flee their small communities, to save their children from the harsh scourge of society. Subsequently, the perpetrators feel indifferent to the crime they committed, and may encourage them to repeat such acts with other children.
Non application of the law
The Yemeni legislator regulated in Penal Code No. 12 of 1994, Book Eleven, Chapter Two, Article No. (270), the penalty for Disgrace to Honor with Coercion; "Punishment with imprisonment for a period of no less than three years and no more than fifteen years". The law defined Disgrace to Honor without Coercion as: "Any act that falls on the body of the human being and defames the honor thereof; is carried out from one person to another".
However, the security chaos that the country is going through in general, as a result of the war and its consequences, which cast a shadow on various aspects of life, and weakened the authority of the state and the law, led to the deterioration of the situation in various aspects, and made many rights taken away without deterrent penalties, which made crime rates rise dramatically.
On the other hand, UNICEF calls on the parties to the conflict and those who can influence them to protect civilians wherever they are, in addition to the need to preserve the safety and well-being of children, and to ensure their protection at all times.
Lawyer and human rights activist, Hussein Al-Hindi explained to Khuyut that the procedures that cases of violations go through certain steps; starting with the stage of gathering evidence, which is the prerogative of the security authorities, and moving to the preliminary investigation in the Public Prosecution, leading to litigation and the issuance of a judicial sentence on the cases.
Additionally, Al-Hindi stressed that the current political changes in the country have been reflected on all official state bodies, including security and the judiciary. In fact, the security and the judiciary institutions are not currently independence, rather, there are some powers/parties that are not legally authorized to deal with such cases become involved in their affairs. Moreover, these powers may initiate procedures for gathering evidence and illegal imprisonment which exposes these procedures to invalidity, and leads to obstruction of the progress and follow-up of cases.