Houthi’s Indoctrination of Yemen’s Youth; How to Untie the Gordian Knot of Educational Oppression?

By LtCol Michael von Normann, German Army, US Central Command: Strategy Plans and Policy Directorate; Combined Strategic Analysis Group, Middle East Branch
21 May 2020


The Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen have established a strong system of child indoctrination and soldier recruitment through educational institutions. The plethora of negative aftershocks that come from the use of child soldiers necessitates an international approach to stemming the tide of recruitment in Yemen. A complete stop is unlikely without targeting the financial reserves of the Houthi government.

Key Points:

  • The Houthis are exploiting educational institution teaching staff to exert severe influence on children. Long-term mental effects are difficult to tackle and require a de-radicalization of affected teenagers.
  • More than 18,000 children have been recruited by the rebels, mainly through coercion, fear, physicalsuppression or abuse. However, thanks to effective indoctrination, thousands of them lost their lives hopingto become a hero or a martyr.
  • The Houthis must acknowledge that the international community will not take them seriously unless they fullycomply with international laws, and that they will be held accountable for their actions.
  • A combined approach by the international community and the GCC needs to address the rebels’ financialresources and target weapon smuggling routes on the Arabian Peninsula and adjacent waters.


For several years, the Houthis have been manipulating education institutions for the purpose of indoctrinating young children. In Houthi-held territories, thousands of teenagers have been subjected to indoctrination or ‘brainwashing’ to make them submissive and obedient devotees, ready to sacrifice their own lives for the Houthis’ objectives. History has plenty of examples of unscrupulous regimes using indoctrination as a means of population control. The Hitler Youth during the National Socialist regime in Germany, the Young Pioneers in the Soviet Union or Xinjiang’s re-education camps in China, are all examples of regimes that used indoctrination for malign purposes. However, history also tends to show that region and global communities eventually pushed back against these techniques with catastrophic results for the malign regimes. Therefore, it is relevant now to consider how CENTCOM and the global community may end these practices in Yemen and deter their further use.

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The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of a number of international officers within the Combined Strategic Analysis Group (CSAG) and do not necessarily reflect the views of United States Central Command, not of the nations represented within the CSAG or any other governmental agency.