One year after an airstrike by the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition hit a school bus killing 40 children and injuring dozens more, three of the child survivors have spoken to Save the Children of their ongoing daily physical and psychological struggle.
While the children’s pain endures, a lack of accountability continues to undermine justice for those affected as violence continues across the country. Altogether, more than 7,500 children were killed and maimed in Yemen between April 2013 and the end of 2018. In the first seven months of this year, another 416 children have been injured and almost 200 killed.
Khaled*, 12, was one of the children who survived the airstrike in Saada, on August 9, 2018. He was on a field trip with his friends when the bus was hit in a busy marketplace. Khaled described talking to a friend when the attack happened: “He said, I swear that airstrike is aiming for us. I didn’t believe him. I told him it will not hit us. But it was true, it was aiming for us.”
Khaled said his suffering continues today: “Every time I hear warplanes, I run away. I don’t dare to stay. I close my ears and lay down to sleep that way. I am scared if it hits again. If it hits, then it will hit children. At night I have ugly dreams. I see the carnage, I see everything… then I get up and cry all night long.”
“I still have shrapnel in my head. Sometimes I get headaches… I can’t go to school, because my leg is still broken and we don’t have a car – the school is far.
“I used to be happy with my friends but ever since that hit happened, I cannot. I see my friends go out and play but I can’t. I can’t remember things now because of the shrapnel that is in my head and face. I can’t remember anything.”
Ismail*, 8, was also injured in the attack. He sustained several wounds and his leg was severely broken – he can now walk, but he is still afraid to go out of the house and play. His father Saif* told Save the Children he had been reluctant to let Ismail go on the trip because of fears for his safety. He said: “The people told me that the airstrike hit the bus. I said no, they didn’t hit the bus, it’s fake news.
“I was angry when I heard that news, I lost my mind, they took me to my house, I was screaming loudly.
“Every time I sit with my son, he asks me about the incident, he wants to know what happened to him. The only thing he remembers is holding on to something and suddenly he found himself on the ground. Every time he remembers what happens, he cries.”
“Ismail* is really hurt from inside and he feels that he is not living anymore. We try to talk to him to feel better and we can’t stop ourselves from crying.”
Tens of thousands of children in Yemen have experienced violence or other atrocities, potentially leaving deep physical and mental scars. A survey published in 2018 following interviews with nearly 1,000 children in Sana’a found that 79 percent showed signs of serious psychological consequences as a result of the conflict.
Some 7.4 million Yemeni children need help and protection because they live in areas affected by the fighting, of whom 4.3 million are in critical need and must be reached. Save the Children’s child protection staff on the ground say that many of these children are likely to need some form of mental health or psychosocial support.
Jason Lee, Deputy Country Director for Save the Children in Yemen: “A year ago, forty children were killed on a school trip. Since then, there has been no justice for the victims, survivors and their families, and daily grave violations of children’s rights continue across the country. The international community must ensure credible and independent investigations into all potential violations of international law so perpetrators are one day held to account. In Yemen, warring parties continue to kill children without fear of consequences. This must end. States can and must step up pressure to end the bloodshed.”
“Survivors are battling to recover yet programs for mental health support are underfunded and there’s a lack of expertise in the country. We need to see more recourses to help these children in Yemen, including for the care of specialists where necessary.”