Should U.S. give a free pass to countries that use child soldiers?

As a humanitarian worker, a child protection expert, and as a U.S. citizen, I have certain expectations -- some call them naive ideals -- that the U.S. government will work to reduce the vulnerability of children around the world and here in the United States.

Laws like the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the PROTECT Act, and the Child Soldier Prevention Act have all set in place strict policies that made America the global leader in working to prevent and respond to vulnerability among children.

That’s why, on October 4, I was angry, and, to be honest, feeling slightly betrayed. On October 4, the Obama administration announced the latest round of guidelines outlining how, for the second year in a row, the federal government will provide military aid to countries whose armed forces recruit and use child soldiers.

In December 2008, I fell on my knees in thankful prayer when the Child Soldier Prevention Act (CSPA) unanimously passed both houses of Congress. Even though the law would not go into effect until 2010, I rejoiced at the United States taking leadership to end this terrible practice.

The bill had a simple goal: to prevent U.S. taxpayer money from supporting armies that use child soldiers. Right now, there are six countries in the world that actively use children in their national militaries -- Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen.

The recent decision by the Obama administration means that the United States will now give military aid to five of those six countries, despite the existence of the CSPA.

At a time when Congress is locked in one of the most difficult budget battles I’ve ever seen, it is shameful that a portion of federal funding continues to help support governments who are abusing children. The worst part is that thousands of children around the world -- not the politicians in the White House, on Capitol Hill, or in the State Department -- are the ones who will suffer.

Six countries use children in their national armies. The U.S. government provides military assistance to five of them.

The statement on October 4 comes after President Obama used a loophole in the CSPA to grant a partial waiver to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and a full waiver to Yemen -- both countries implicated in child soldier usage, according to the most recent Trafficking in Persons Report (pdf) from the U.S. Department of State.

Citing improvements in addressing the issue of child soldiers, the White House also granted the government of Chad full access to all forms of military aid.

It's true that these countries need support to help end the widespread use of child soldiers. But in the meantime, they continue to exploit children in their armed forces -- and the United States refuses to show the moral and political backbone necessary to enforce the law that took effect just one year ago. Our leaders have not provided any clear benchmarks to track progress in these countries, and they've failed to use the diplomatic and punitive tools the CSPA provides.

Instead, it seems that we are now complicit in the problem by allowing American taxpayer dollars to support governments that persist in recruiting child soldiers or refuse to hold military commanders accountable for their use of children.

The decision to grant a full national security waiver to Yemen and a partial waiver to the Democratic Republic of Congo means that the United States will continue to give military aid to governments who, yet again, fail to meet the child protection requirements outlined under the CSPA.

Furthermore, the reinstatement of military aid to Chad -- which, due to a full waiver granted last year, never lost military aid to begin with -- without any clear benchmarks to ensure continued progress, is also troubling.

At its core, this is a missed opportunity to show leadership on the issue and protect thousands of vulnerable children around the world. Frankly, I expected more from our nation’s leaders.

Right now, Congress is responding to the president’s decision. They are working to close the loopholes in the CSPA by adding language to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. This bipartisan legislation is the centerpiece of U.S. laws and policies combating human trafficking at home and abroad. It's our best chance to stop the use of child soldiers where the Obama administration has failed to do so.

You have a chance to help. Call your senators and representatives today. Tell them to pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.

And call the White House. Tell President Obama to stop providing military assistance to countries that use child soldiers.

This is a moral issue for the United States. But for thousands of children abused as soldiers around the world, it could be a matter of life and death.

What do you think? Should U.S. military aid go to countries implicated in the use of child soldiers? How else can Americans help prevent their tax dollars from funding this?


    The trouble is that it is NOT more tactically effective to use adult soldiers. Child soldiers are remarkably effective because they are easy to command and control, they require very little investment to recruit and replace, and they are in abundant supply.

    It is incredibly sick, but it is true. When you look coldly at the immediate investment versus the results, child soldiers are the more economic choice.

    The people actually employing child soldiers are not (directly) governmentally employed, they are too far removed to receive the benefits of these "diplomatic efforts" or, frankly, to even care.

    The only way they will see a need to change is if the cost of using child soldiers outweighs the benefits. Right now they are free and it's up to us to put a price on them.

    It literally only took me maybe 2 minutes to call all of my Representatives/Senators. Everyone should take a moment to do the same!

    Don't you think that Obama's plan to provide military aid to these countries will eliminate some of the need to use child soldiers in their armies? I think that by providing able-bodied and well-trained military assistance to these nations, they will realize that it is more tactically effective to use adult soldiers who are capable of more advanced missions and endeavors than children. I think that Obama's plan, although imperfect, is a diplomatic step in the right direction if we want to make positive change in countries like Myanmar, Sudan, and Yemen.

    Dana - you are giving way too much credit to a government who would commit these atrocities in the first place. Giving monsters money will not turn them into responsible, rational people.

    To think that children wouldn't be used if there were enough adults, is naive. This kind of evil would not give up control over children...only find additional ways to use them.

    Our government in the USA is not only blind and deaf,its straight up, dumb.

    Wow. Where was this story in the looping of "headline" news on the Michael Jackson murder trial, Lindsay Lohan, and (as sad as it is) a single missing child? It infuriates me that we as a nation don't demand more information about what our leaders are doing -- I'm not happy with the media either, but really we, the public, are the ones who create demand . . . and the voice demanding drivel is drowning out any request for real news, evidently.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Sarah -sorry Dana, but sadly she's correct. A bit of an odd example comes comes to mind: this is like giving bags of money to an alcoholic living on the streets...he'll use the first bag or two to buy alcohol to feed his addiction; if you give him enough bags of money, he'll eventually buy or rent a house--where he will not only have a roof over his head, but lots of room to store all of the alcohol that he also continued to buy with your bags of money. Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that these evil people recruiting & sacrificing children to fight in wars of their creating is similar to someone having alcoholism. Rather, I'm simply pointing out that some diseases, like alcoholism, have a vey ugly, selfish side -- and it's that ugly side multiplied by 10000, that we can and should expect from people and Nations who receive funds from the U.S.without corresponding obligations AND significant consequences if those aren't met (consequences that MUST be enforced). Otherwise, what would keep these nations from taking our money, but not making any changes they previously agreed to? And, Dana, if you're thinking the answer to my rhetorical question is that they gave their word, you be wrong again -- nothing would stop them from doing that, I mean, these are people who have no qualms about enslaving and sacrificing young children!

    One more comment for anyone contacting lawmakers -- the author states at the end that this is a moral issue for the U.S. I disagree, at least to the extent that I believe it's much more than that. Identifying the issue & wanting to do something to help or remedy the situation -- that's when it was last simply a moral issue. Upon lawmakers enacting legislation, however, "this" became something more, a legal issue. The reason that's great is because it gives us all at least a foothold in making our argument to our know the ones who'll need our votes again soon enough.

    No, we should do all we can to discourage this practice. Withholding assistance would set a standard and example for these countries.

    Please help! Canada has been identified as both a transit and a destination point for human trafficking, and Vancouver (located in British Columbia) has been singled out by the U.S. State Department as a port of major concern. However, British Columbia’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Shirley Bond, drastically cut funding to the province’s Office To Combat Trafficking In Persons. This occurred in July of 2011, and resulted in the termination of the Executive Director, Robin Pike. There is no longer an Executive Director position, and as it stands there are only 2 employees working in this office, period. Please join me in telling my province’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General and Premier, that this is unacceptable.

    You should have a link for a pre-written email that we can send to our state senators ready for us. I think the easier you make it for people to take action, the more people will. Pre-written letters and links to where they can send these emails. Just my suggestion. I know I do not want my Tax dollars supporting this child abuse.

    Really good suggestion, Michelle. I'm letting our Advocacy team know your thoughts. // Also wanted you to know that typically, our advocacy action center has two ways for people to speak up and use their voice to make a difference. One of those ways is through a pre-written email and the other is by providing a short and simple script for you to voice to your elected representative via a phone call. Our action alert particularly for the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (as stated in this post) is a phone call to your senator. Perhaps our team should consider a pre-written email as well. Thanks for your help!

    No!! We should not be giving any form of military aid to countries who have implicated in any way, shape or form that they are using children to help fight their wars. This is unjust and no one should stand for such a practice.
    The only way we have any control over how our tax dollars are spent is to get different people in office that will follow through on what they say they will do. We need leaders who have a backbone and have conviction enough to do what is right! No child should be forced to be a soldier! How would you feel if it were your child?
    Make the call to your senators and legislators today!

    No. Do not help countries that use children as soldiers. Children should be allowed to play and dance. They are children not men..

    Leave a Comment

    The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.