Yemen Country Profile

Fighting between government and rebel forces has raged in Northern Yemen for years, displacing around 200 000 people, among them a large number of children.

Poverty, lack of education, hazardous work, and the escalating conflict between the government and the northern rebels are some of the challenges that children are facing in the midst of the Yemen crisis. Save the Children's work focuses on children in refugee camps and the establishment of child friendly and safe spaces for children to play, laugh and learn.

Recent history

The modern Republic of Yemen was born in 1990 when North and South merged after years of border wars and skirmishes. But peace broke down in 1994 and a short civil war ended in defeat for separatist southerners and in the survival of a unified Yemen.1 Since the summer of 2009, hundreds have been killed and more than a quarter of a million people displaced by clashes between government troops and northern Houthi rebels belonging to the minority Shia Zaidi sect. The government declared a ceasefire with the northern rebels in February 2010.2

Since unification Yemen has been modernising and opening up to the world, but it still maintains much of its tribal character and old ways. Tensions persist between the north and the south; some southerners say the northern part of the state is economically privileged.3

The country has had to deal with the merging of two different political and administrative systems, the effects of the Gulf war, and the impact of the 1994 civil war. Traditionally, North Yemen has been a tightly closed society whose relation with the outside world has been limited, and where education was confined only to religious schools. It is only during the last two to three decades that educational opportunities have been made available and enrolment in basic education has increased significantly.4

On 12 August 2009, reports of sporadic clashes between Huthi rebels and government forces in the northern Sa'da governorate erupted into the sixth round of heavy fighting since June 2004. These conflicts have displaced more than 150 000 people, 316,000 (August 20105) many of whom remain out of the reach of humanitarian agencies. According to Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia in September 2009 blocked refugees' access to the kingdom, denying humanitarian access to Yemen through its territory, and forcibly returned refugees who had crossed its border. In November Saudi forces became party to the armed conflict.6 In August 2009, the United Nations called for humanitarian corridors and localized ceasefires to allow aid to reach civilians, and for civilians to be able to flee to safety.7

Economic and social situation

Yemen as a country is highly dependent on declining oil resources for revenue. Petroleum accounts for roughly 25 per cent of GDP and 70 per cent of government revenue. The drop in oil prices in the mid-2008 influenced the government's economy greatly; in 2009 it had slashed the oil revenues by more than 50 per cent, as compared to 2008. Yemen has tried to counter the effects of its declining oil resources by diversifying its economy through an economic reform programme initiated in 2006 that is designed to attract foreign investment. Despite these ambitious plans, Yemen faces difficult long term challenges, including declining water resources and a high population growth rate.8

Human rights issues

Women continued to face discrimination in law and practice and are inadequately protected against domestic and other violence.

In April 2009, parliament reportedly endorsed legal amendments that benefited women in social security, retirement and holiday allowances. However, the government failed to address the wider problem of discrimination against women. In a “shadow” report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in advance of its July review of Yemen’s application of the UN Women’s Convention, Yemeni women’s rights organisations highlighted various forms of discrimination and violence against women, including abuses such as marriage of girls as young as eight.9In a positive step, parliament in February gave women the right to pass their nationality on to their children, and are discussing to set the minimum legal age for marriage at 17. However, early marriage remains widespread, exposing young girls to domestic violence and maternal mortality, and cutting short their education. In September a 12-year-old married girl died in childbirth. Yemen has one of the world's highest maternal mortality rates, with an estimated eight women dying each day from childbirth complications. Seventy-five percent of Yemenis live in rural areas with no hospitals.10

Women who marry against parental wishes are sometimes charged with adultery and imprisoned. Marital rape is not criminalised, trapping forcibly married girls and women in relationships with abusive husbands. Women fleeing domestic violence are sometimes incarcerated, and may face prolonged detention when male relatives refuse to collect them. A new policy allows female relatives to collect female detainees as well, but to date it is not consistently observed.11

Yemen hosts over 170 000 refugees of which the majority are Somalis(130,000)12. Refugees continously cross the Gulf of Aden at a great peril; many others are believed to have drowned or been killed by people traffickers. Some 1,300 asylum-seekers, according to government statistics, were returned involuntarily to their countries. Among those at risk of forcible return was Mohamadain ‘Abdel Hameed Haroun, a Sudanese national from the Darfur region, who would be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment if returned to Sudan.13

Several protesters in 2009 were deliberately killed or died as a result of excessive use of force by the security forces during peaceful protests. No independent investigations were known to have been carried out and no one was brought to justice.14

Police brutality and torture of detainees held in connection with politically motivated acts or protests as well as ordinary criminal suspects were reported to be widespread and carried out with impunity. Confessions allegedly obtained under torture or other duress were accepted as evidence by the courts without being investigated adequately, if at all. Reported methods of torture included beating with sticks, punching, kicking, prolonged suspension by the wrists or ankles, burning with cigarettes, being stripped naked, denial of food and prompt access to medical help, and threats of sexual abuse.15