Yemen has become yet another domino to fall in a well-organised terrorist system in which human misery is a tradable commodity. Take a look at the broader region, particularly those countries which have suffered at the hands of radicals, and we see a disturbing pattern emerging: Nigeria, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and now Yemen, all these countries have seen vulnerable communities targeted by sex traffickers and their children sold into a system which profits and draws satisfaction from child abuse and dehumanisation.
Systemic sexual abuse is conducted by terrorist militants for three purposes: to strike fear into the heart of communities, for self-gratification, and for financial gain. Behind every abuse and every abuser has towered a system which has strived for, benefited from and leaned on sexual enslavement to assert its dominance.
As world powers continue to argue Yemen’s future – often by speaking over Yemenis, rather than to them – a great tragedy has unfolded, unspoken and unchallenged.
For a country which has already lost too many of its sons and daughters to war, seeing its children and young people stolen by the likes of Al Qaeda and ISIS is one abomination too many.
So far, and due to the nature of these crimes, communities have been reluctant to come forward. Stigma, fear of social exclusion, fear of repercussions, shame, and distrust of the media, have driven many families to keep silent. Still, a few brave souls have now decided to break this unspoken code of silence, albeit under the cover of anonymity, so that abusers can be outed and victims rescued.
Hundreds of children – mainly young girls aged 6 to 15 – have been kidnapped across Yemen, to be sold as sex slaves by al-Qaeda’s trafficking network.
Tribal sources in Abyan – a former stronghold of al-Qaeda, which also happens to be President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s home province – have confirmed that children have been trafficked out of south Yemen through Mukalla and the seaport of Aden by militants affiliated to Al Qaeda.
Yemen’s run-in with human trafficking has run parallel to the rise of terrorism.
In 2014 the US State Department Trafficking in Persons report read:
“Yemen is a country of origin and, to a lesser extent, a transit and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour, and women and children subjected to sex trafficking. Some Yemeni children, mostly boys, migrate to the Yemeni cities of Aden and Sana’a, or travel across the northern border to Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, to Oman, where they are subjected to forced labour in domestic service, small shops, or as beggars. Some of these children are forced into prostitution by traffickers, border patrols, other security officials, and their employers once they arrive in Saudi Arabia; some children are forced to smuggle drugs into Saudi Arabia.”
With the collusion of its patrons, Al Qaeda has built up an entire shadow economy generating millions of dollars through the exploitation of children.
As Yemen remains entrenched in a protracted and multi-fronted military conflict, socio-political dynamics as well as economic realities have evolved, and shifted to reflect needs – more often than not, to the detriment of civilian populations.
If war in Yemen has brought a litany of suffering, it has also opened-up financial “opportunities”; de facto allowing for the rise of a Black Economy.
While it has often been assumed that only the Houthis have dabbled in less than holistic activities to sustain their war efforts, whereas all factions, on both sides of the fence, have had a hand in the looting of Yemen’s sovereign economy, in clear violation of the law – national and international.
Since war broke out, the Houthi-Saleh/GPC alliance [General People’s Congress, former ruling party) has transformed and evolved into a state-like construct whereby the two forces: comprised both of a para-military and political branches, joined together into an organic third entity, which purpose has been to survive the military onslaught by ensuring financial survival.
It is also worth noting that a certain fluidity has been observed between self-proclaimed warring factions as far as financial interests are concerned. Where very clear lines might have existed in the early stages of the conflict, in that individuals, tribal entities, political factions and coalition groups sat on very distinct shores, needs, and an imperious desire to generate money to overpower the opposition, have often led opposite sides to negotiate ‘access’.
For example: weapon dealers based in South Yemen – in those areas under tacit Saudi control – have smuggled weapons and ammunition to North Yemen via old tribal trading routes, as well as diesel, and other supplies. While such activities betray immediate military interests, it appears war has created too much of a lucrative space for any one party to ignore – safe maybe from those invested in peace.
Yemen’s descent into socio-economic, political, and to a greater extent: sovereign instability, since territoriality and national identity have been put under great stress as a result of a new rising narrative of war: sectarianism, tribalism and regionalism, has empowered radical elements within Yemen. The likes of Al Qaeda have been handed an ever-expanding space to thrive. Out of every vacuum this war has created, it is al-Qaeda and ultimately its patrons which have risen stronger still.
Yemen’s war has become too much of a liability to regional stability for parties to still entertain the notion that a further military entrenchment will generate positive results. War at this stage is a blessing for Al Qaeda and those parties benefiting from the annihilation of Yemen’s national sovereignty. Such an eroding of Yemen’s nation-state could have terrible repercussions, since it could allow for the rise of another socio-political system – that of the Islamic Caliphate.
Beyond all blame and culpability Yemen’s biggest threat remains Terror.