On October 28, The New York Times published an article about nations in which children are utilized as soldiers: 4 Nations With Child Soldiers Keep U.S. Aid. Children are forced into combat, forced to carry heavy and dangerous weaponry, forced to live in dangerous conditions. These children are often kidnapped. It’s not just boys, either. As a friend said in a class of mine this morning, girls are often kidnapped, too, to be wives to commanders and other ranking officials, in addition to they ways in which they are more directly used in combat. Despite this and other findings summarized in the Times’ article, “in an annual State Department report on human trafficking, the Obama administration is allowing American military aid to continue to the four countries, issuing a waiver this week of a 2008 law, the Child Soldiers Prevention Act.” The law, signed by President George W. Bush:
“Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2007 – Defines “child soldier.”
Prohibits, with a national interest waiver, funds appropriated or otherwise made available for specified military and related areas from being obligated or otherwise made available to the government of a country identified by the Department of State as having governmental armed forces or government supported armed groups, including paramilitaries, militias, or civil defense forces, that recruit or use child soldiers.
Directs the Secretary of State to notify any government so identified.
Authorizes the President to reinstate assistance upon certifying to Congress that a government is implementing: (1) compliance measures; and (2) mechanisms to prohibit future use of child soldiers and to ensure that no children are recruited, conscripted, or otherwise compelled to serve as child soldiers.
Authorizes the President to provide assistance to a country for international military education and training otherwise prohibited under this Act upon certifying to Congress that such assistance is for programs that implement measures to demobilize child soldiers and for programs to support professionalization of the military.”
The Times’ article states: “In a memorandum to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday, President Obama said he had determined that the waiver was in ‘the national interest.'”
“The national interest.” This is aways complicated, often ambiguous, and too often causes the US to draw some shaky lines. Welcome to politics; we can’t ever make everyone happy, we can’t ever keep everyone safe, we can’t ever protect everyone’s rights, as much as any of us wish we could. What, then, do we do?
The White House “put these four countries on notice by naming them as having child soldiers, and thereby making them automatically subject to sanctions, absent the exercise of a presidential waiver.”
In response: “Human rights groups expressed concern, saying that the decision raised questions about the administration’s seriousness about protecting children, sometimes not yet in their teens, from the rigors and hazards of military service.”
First, let’s back up and get some background and context:
- FAQs about Child Soldiers (Coalition to stop the use of Child Soldiers)
Children and armed conflict (UNICEF)
Understanding the Convention (UNICEF)
Declaration of the Rights of the Child, Plain Language Version (United Nations CyberSchoolBus)
- Child Soldiers (Human Rights Watch)
- Facts About Child Soldiers (Human Rights Watch)
- Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 (Human Rights Watch)
- Child Soldiers (War Child International)
- Child Soldiers (Amnesty International)
Identifying Humanitarian Gaps Child protection in Child Warfare. Biting the Bullet of War: Are Child Soldiers Worth the Cost? Discussions of the pitfalls and obstacles humanitarian organizations face in rehabilitating and reintegrating children soldiers.
Plain and simple, child soldiering is a violation of their human rights. What to do about it? Not at all plain or simple.
The question here is: Is this waiver the best idea? If so, the best idea for who?
The memo suggests that this is the best plan for the big US. However, is it truly in the best interest of the US to waive anyone’s human rights? If we waive some child soldiers’ rights because it makes the most sense for us one day, how can we be justified in upholding the rights of others the next?
Human rights universal, indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated. Not only are we clearly endangering and waiving our stance on the rights of these children. Not only are we endangering our own rights by saying, well, some humans get some human rights, sometimes, but only if it’s in “the national interest.” We are endangering human rights as an idea, as a concept, a theory, and a practice. If we can deny some humans their human rights at will, at any given moment, how can we truly say that every human has these rights? How can we challenge any violation to human rights after we state that “the national interest” is simply more important?
The question of child soldiers is an extremely complex one. Though I wish I had a solution, I don’t. What I do have is the firm belief that these children have human rights which are essential to their living a life of dignity. It is far too dangerous for all involved to question or sign off on a violation of that; for them, for the US, for anyone, for everyone.