14-year-old Ahmed Omer is one victim of government neglect in the area of children’s issues and rights. Ahmed was playing football in the street like any child, and unintentionally kicked the ball to a man passing by in the street. The man started hitting him, Ahmed stabbed him with a piece of glass. He was charged with attempted murder, and was ordered to pay money to the man, and is now in jail until the man gets his money. He is finally free after a year, however, there was no reason why he should have been charged in the first place.
Mohammed al-Orafei, Director of the Moral Guidance House (DMH) which houses juvenile inmates, said that the DMH should have a financial fund to quickly solve small issues that are simply a matter of money.
“If there is a financial fund, children like Omer will not be forced to be jailed in the DMH with other children, who may influence them poorly.”
According to al-Orafei, one of the most common problems children and governments face is not having birth certificates.
“Every child has the right to a birth certificate, and for those children who have conflict with the law, an absence of one can lead to a bad judgement. Now that we are drafting a new constitution, I hope that the members of the committee pay attention to this issue and determine a punishment for those who do not give children a certificate.”
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), at least twenty-two individuals have been sentenced to death despite evidence that they committed their crimes while being underage. HRW linked this to the fact that Yemen has one of the lowest birth registration rates in the world. Only 22% of births are registered. The numbers are even more stark for poor and rural populations, where it can get as low as 5% according to UNICEF.
Judge Khalid Marei says that children’s rights are part of human rights, Yemen also has ratified international conventions which mean it is obliged to implement them. HRW says that Yemen has approved both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which capital punishment is prohibited for anyone who has been underage when committing a capital crime.
“In terms of the legislative side, I think there is no failure of the laws themselves, the problem is related to the issue of applying those laws.”
Marei said that in this stage of Yemeni history, we need to demand supervisory authorities and criminal punishments for those who jeopardize the implementation of these laws.
Marei specifically cited how the age of a minor is rarely adhered to, despite being divided into three levels by Yemeni law. Children below seven have no liability, from seven to fifteen they should only receive a disciplinary guideline, and from fifteen to eighteen, they carry a softer criminal responsibility. Still though, cases like Ahmed Omer’s happen far too often.
Judge Amin Sultan went further, arguing that the most prominent problems that Yemen faces with children is the lack of social specialists, care homes, and specialized courts that can even determine a child’s age.
“The difficulty of determining the minor’s age is because of different reasons, not only the absence of the birth certificate. There are also inaccuracies during the registration of birth certificates where some parents register their children after years of their birth.”
“We hope that there will be a push to activate existing laws, in addition to work on providing a good environment to accommodate them. This would provide appropriate services to them as minors, in order to ensure their protection, and to protect them from all forms of exploitation and violence.”
Bushra Mohammed, social worker in al-Amal House Dar for girls care, said that she hopes at this new stage of Yemen’s history, there will be hard work for the inclusion of laws in the new constitution related to child protection and childhood preservation.
She is hopeful, due to cases like Omer’s which shouldn’t have happened in the first place.