Saudi Arabia and its allies are paying Sudanese soldiers, many of whom are between the ages of 14 and 17, as much as $10,000 to fight in their brutal war in Yemen.
David D. Kirkpatrick of The New York Times reported on Friday that the Saudi-led coalition has recruited thousands of militiamen from Sudan to fight in the kingdom’s war in Yemen, including child soldiers as young as 14 years old.
Most of the soldiers are from the Darfur region in Sudan, according to the report. Darfur has been devastated by years of civil war and ethnic cleansing. According to the UN, there were still 19,000 child soldiers in South Sudan in October.
The Times reported that money is the main motivation for the Sudanese soldiers. The Saudi-led coalition paid the equivalent of between $480 and $530 per month, along with additional pay in months where the soldiers faced combat and a one-time $10,000 payment at the end of a six-month tour. The Times noted for comparison that a Sudanese doctor would earn roughly the equivalent of $500 per month.
Many of the soldiers saw the war and the money being paid by the coalition as a way to help their families escape economic despair. The report quoted Hager Shomo Ahmed, a 16-year-old Sudanese veteran of the war in Yemen who was recruited at the age of 14, as saying “families know that the only way their lives will change is if their sons join the war and bring them back money.”
According to the Times, Sudanese soldiers who fought in Yemen said that between 20% and 40% of their units were made up of children.
The Saudi-led coalition denied that there were children among the Sudanese forces in a statement to the Times.
The war in Yemen has been described as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Since 2015, Saudi Arabia and its allies have been fighting against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebel movement. Thousands of civilians have died in the fighting and millions more face disease and malnutrition as a result of the conflict.
In December, the US Senate voted to remove American support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, but the measure has not been taken up in the House of Representatives.
The Times reported that the Sudanese soldiers have bolstered the Saudi-led coalition’s ability to continue the war and that they “have insulated the Saudis and Emiratis from the casualties that might test the patience of families at home.”