Ending the Use of Child Soldiers
In honor of the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, marked across the globe this past weekend, a bill designed to help stop the scourge of Child Soldiers was introduced today by U.S. Rep Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House panel on Africa.
“No child should be forced or enticed to carry a gun or to kill. No child should be used by fighting forces—or anyone—as a sex slave,” said Smith, author of the landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which created the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. “The legislation I am introducing today would insure that the current Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 is implemented as intended by Congress—and that the U.S. is not complicit in partnering with child traffickers.”
In the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA) of 2008, Congress provided the Executive Branch the tools needed to identify countries where military or government-supported armed groups recruited or used children as soldiers in the preceding year. The State Department was then directed prohibit these governments from receiving certain U.S. taxpayer-funded military and weapons assistance, with a full or partial ‘national interest’ waiver allowed for extraordinary circumstances.
Under the Obama Administration, the ‘national interest’ clause was used so extensively that the prohibition of aid has become nearly meaningless. The previous Administration allowed more than $1 billion in military assistance to countries that used children as young as 10 years old as cannon fodder in the field—and/or as sex slaves by their commanding officers. In 2016, only three of 10 countries designated as using child soldiers were fully denied funds, and these were the countries for which funds had not been designated originally. Since 2013, we have seen a spike in the use of child soldiers in some countries, especially South Sudan, which consistently receives full or partial waivers. Despite Afghanistan’s use of children, especially as sex slaves in forces fighting the Taliban, Afghanistan did not even make the list.
“This law is good news for child sex slaves serving the Afghan National Police who will now be recognized and for the increasing number of children recruited to fight in South Sudan, a country which will now have less room for potential waivers,” said Smith. “The law will also require expanded reporting in the Trafficking in Persons Report as well as in a special report to Congress; taxpayers have a right to know whether their tax money is aiding child traffickers.”
Smith’s bill, the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2017, will ensure the effective implementation of the CSPA by clarifying Congressional intent that the use of children in any government fighting force, even if the force is not technically a branch of the military, is unacceptable. Smith’s bill will also limit the waivers the Administration can use and ensure that governments who knowingly involve children in armed conflict, as servants or as sex slaves are held accountable. It will also maximize Congressional oversight and public accountability of military and weapons assistance to countries using child soldiers.
Smith has been involved in the fight against the use of Child Soldiers for decades. In 2000 Smith spoke in support of H. Con Res. 348, Condemning the Use of Children as Soldiers before the House Committee on International Relations (now known as the House Committee on Foreign Affairs). In 2006, he introduced H.R. 5966, The Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2006, which was later embodied in the Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2008, P.L. 11-340.