|US Joins UN in Protecting Children from Combat|
The United States has officially joined with the United Nations in efforts to stop the exploitation of over 300,000 children taking part in armed conflict daily.
The State Department reports that with President Bush's signature, the U.S. has ratified the U.N. Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, designed to protect children from the impacts of war.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate, by a unanimous vote, extended its advice and consent for President Bush to ratify the protocol.
Children in Combat a Global Problem
According to a U.N. report of December 2002, over 300,000 children at any one time are being used in combat as soldiers, messengers, guards, runners, bearers, spies, cooks, and sex slaves. While most critical in Africa and Asia, the problem also exists in Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. Listed in the U.N. report as recruiting or forcing children to participate in combat are 23 parties, including governments and/or rebel groups in Afghanistan, Burundi, Congo, Liberia and Somalia. Child soldiers as young as ten years old have been abducted from their homes and forced into situations where they witness, and sometimes perpetrate, violence against their own families and communities.
A Global Response is Required
Under the U.N. Optional Protocol, now signed by 110 countries and ratified by 42 (including the U.S.), all parties agree to:
- take all feasible measures to ensure that persons under the age of 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities;
- establish 18 as the minimum age for compulsory recruitment into their armed forces;
- declare the minimum age for voluntary enlistment at time of deposit (in the U.S., 17 years old with parental consent);
- prohibit and criminalize recruitment of persons under the age of 18 by armed groups that are distinct from the armed forces of a State;
- take all feasible measures to ensure that in the event of hostilities within their jurisdictions, persons recruited or used contrary to protocol jurisdiction are demobilized;
- cooperate in the implementation of the protocol, including the rehabilitation and social reintegration of persons who are victims of acts contrary to the protocol.
The U.S. Departments of State and Defense were deeply involved in the negotiations that lead to adoption of the protocol and assured President Bush that it would in no way jeopardize national defense or security.
- The Department of Defense has determined that it can comply with the protocol while fully protecting U.S. military recruitment and readiness programs.
- U.S. law already prohibits the compulsory recruitment of persons under the age of 18 for any type of military service.
- U.S. law also prohibits accepting voluntary recruits below the age of 17.
- The protocol does not affect the U.S. military's ability to carry out its national security missions.
Programs help rehabilitate child soldiers
Two relevant funds that support programs through grants and cooperative agreements are the Displaced Children and Orphans Fund, and the Patrick J. Leahy War Victims Fund. Money from both funds are usually transferred to USAID's overseas missions, where grants and cooperative agreements are negotiated and managed.
- Displaced Children and Orphans Fund: The fund focuses on developing and supporting programs that relate to children affected by war. (The fund also supports children orphaned by AIDS, street children, and children with disabilities.) The fund has contributed more than $74,000,000 to programs in 28 countries since 1989. Most activities are carried out by nongovernmental organizations. The fund has programs in Angola, Brazil, Congo, Croatia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Kosovo, Liberia, Malawi, Peru, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Vietnam, and Zambia.
- Patrick J. Leahy War Victims Fund: Also established in 1989, this fund works in war-affected countries to provide a dedicated source of financial and technical assistance for civilian victims of war. The fund supports programs that provide prosthetic services and programs that follow up such services with patient monitoring. The fund has provided over $60 million in more than 16 countries. The fund supports programs in Angola, Cambodia, Central America, Ethiopia, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Vietnam.
For additional information, see: Optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNICEF)