Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September 2014, 16:29 GMT

Yemen: Gun culture takes its toll on boys

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 29 August 2010
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Yemen: Gun culture takes its toll on boys, 29 August 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c7cbb2e1e.html [accessed 24 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

DHAMAR, 29 August 2010 (IRIN) - Many Yemeni children who accidentally killed their loved ones while playing with guns kept at home, flee immediately after the incident fearing punishment from their fathers. They become separated from their families and drop out of school.

Aref Qied, 15, from Zubaid Uzla village in Ans District, in the central governorate of Dhamar, has not returned home since he shot dead his mother in mid-November 2009 while playing with his family's AK-47 assault rifle. "If I return, my father will kill me," Aref told IRIN.

Working in a 'qat' farm in the eastern part of Dhamar, some 80km from his family home, Aref said he still grieves over the incident with his mother. "I can tolerate separation, but not returning home. How can I meet my father and relatives after the death of my Mum," he said.

His father Qied, 55, however, wants him to come home. "What happened to his mother is a matter of destiny. I want Aref to return home to complete his education. He was attending classes in grade eight," Aref's father told IRIN.

"I will not beat him. I am partially to blame for the incident as I always allow my children to carry guns," he said.

Misuse of firearms is a commonplace phenomenon in Yemen where many citizens keep weapons at home, particularly in rural areas, and gun culture is deeply rooted in Yemeni society.

According to Abdul-Rahman al-Marwani, chairman of Dar Al-Salam Organization, a local NGO tackling the culture of violence, at least 1,200 individuals annually become victims of gun misuse - both deaths and injuries.

Mohammed Hamoud, a public relations officer with the Modern Ahli Hospital in the capital Sanaa, said the hospital receives at least one gunshot victim every month. "Victims taken to the hospital usually come from rural areas around Sanaa," he said.

Taking the life of a brother, sister or a friend - or just witnessing the incident - can be deeply traumatizing.

"In some of the cases, both the victim and the perpetrator are admitted to the hospital for treatment. The latter usually comes in a state of unconsciousness. Many perpetrators develop complicated psychological disorders up to the extent of being incurable," Hamoud said.

According to Derek Miller, author of a small arms survey in Yemen in May 2003,  in contemporary Yemen small arms are regularly carried by males from the age of 15.

"This means that young men often own or carry fully automatic assault rifles, though some prefer [single-shot rifles] for various reasons including price, range, accuracy, and symbolic value," he said.

No rehabilitation programmes for minors

Asmaa al-Masri, a sociologist at Dhamar University, told IRIN that Yemen lacks programmes for the rehabilitation and reintegration of hundreds of teenagers who separate from their families after shooting incidents. "They join the labour market in order to earn a living after being separated," he said. "Many drop out of school at an early age."

"These kind of programmes are necessary for the reintegration of separated kids. They should include local and regional experts who need to work on eliminating the impact of arms misuse in our armed society," she said.

"Awareness programmes are needed to educate families on how to deal with their separated kids and convince them to return home," she said. "Families possessing arms need to be educated on the risks of making guns accessible to their children or allowing them to bear guns."

A survey carried out in 2009 by Abdussalam al-Hakimi, assistant professor of sociology at Taiz University, concluded there were 9.9 million small arms in Yemen, including 1.5 million in the hands of government security and military forces, and 30,000 available in arms shops. The rest were owned by individuals, with 60 percent of families surveyed saying they had weapons in the home.

The government has taken several steps to eliminate the arms trade and control the use of personal weapons in big cities - beginning with the 1992-dated Arms Bearing and Organization Law in 2007 - but the trade still exists.

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