The Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict today urged the Obama administration to reverse its decision to waive the penalties for governments using child soldiers. The decision, announced October 4, undermines the U.S. Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which sanctions these governments by denying them access to U.S. foreign military financing, military training and other forms of military assistance.
Citing national interests, the Presidential Memorandum states that the White House will continue to provide military assistance to the governments of Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen despite the continued use of child soldiers in their armed forces and allied militias. This is the second consecutive year the administration has waived the penalty.
“This decision sends an unfortunate message to perpetrators around the world that stopping countries from committing these war crimes is neither a priority nor an expectation for the U.S. government,” said Eva Smets, director of the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, a program of the Women's Refugee Commission.
Despite recent progress in releasing thousands of children from fighting forces, there are still more than 250,000 boys and girls associated with armed forces and groups worldwide. In order to avoid a backlash in efforts to stop the use of child soldiers, Watchlist strongly urges the U.S. administration to fully apply the legally mandated penalties for governments that continue to engage in this practice.
“It is hard to exert sufficient pressure on states to stop them from using children in armed conflict,” says Smets. The U.S. Child Soldiers Prevention Act is viewed by Watchlist and other human rights organizations as an innovative initiative to give these governments an economic incentive to comply with international human rights law. “The Obama administration has just relinquished one of the most potent instruments to stop this practice: cutting off a state’s military assistance,” Smets added.