Obama provides continuing military aid to countries recruiting child soldiers
In late September, President Obama announced that he would continue to give military aid (as he has consistently done for his entire presidency) to several countries in which child soldiers are still used. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), certain military aid is supposed to be withheld from such countries as stated in the 2009 Child Soldiers Prevention Act. But Obama overrides these restrictions with his presidential authority in the form of waivers once again this year, only fully restricting countries where no military assistance is planned anyway—including Syria, Yemen and Sudan. Iraq, Nigeria and Burma will receive full aid with no restrictions whatsoever, however, with the U.S. providing probable billions in arms and military financial assistance into the hands of government-supported militia groups that recruit and often force children to become soldiers. Accurate numbers are difficult to ascertain since so much is done in secret, but according to HRW, the UN “estimates that some 300,000 children are involved in more than thirty conflicts worldwide today.”
According to Amnesty International, hundreds of thousands of children are recruited as child soldiers worldwide to serve in paramilitaries, civil militia and government armed forces. Although international law prohibits recruitment under age fifteen as a war crime, it has not stopped. Abducted from homes, off the street or from schools and forced into not only combat and other soldier activity but also used as spies, servants, messengers, to clear or lay landmines, or to be used as sex slaves (primarily girls, but both genders), children are made to participate in and endure gruesome and horrific experiences.
Waivers were granted by Obama to Somalia, Rwanda, Congo, South Sudan and Myanmar this year as well, with significantly differing types and amounts of aid being delivered. Of particular concern is the waiver to South Sudan, which has received the waiver every year since 2012. Child soldier use is quite excessive in a continuing South Sudan civil war, with an estimated 16,000 child soldiers being recruited since 2013. In August, an entire village of boys, as young as twelve, were recruited using intimidation by a government-appointed senior politician.
Both South Sudan government and their opposition in the war are actively recruiting children by the hundreds, even during the past month, after UN Security Council members visited. The Associated Press explains, “Under the waiver, South Sudan could receive $30 million in fiscal year 2017 for peacekeeping support, according to the Washington-based Stimson Center policy research group.”
However, the United States government spokeswoman Emily Horne defends the waivers by stating, “The United States can use the possibility of a waiver to provide an incentive for reform while continuing to work closely with those governments to end the use and recruitment of child soldiers,” and further explains, “Obama has determined that the waivers for those four countries “would be in the national interest of the United States.” The U.S. has demanded “an immediate halt to the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by government and opposition forces” in the country.
Human Rights Watch’s children’s rights division advocacy director Jo Becker insists Obama could have done much more to stop the use of child soldiers during his time as president, although she admits a few of his endeavors were helpful. Giving hundreds of millions in military aid has not sent the right message to some of the countries. Becker shares that, “South Sudan really stands out in terms of the severity of the problem.” The country’s use of child soldiers has “clearly gotten worse” and has “been a complete disaster.”
Ten countries were named by the State Department as continuing the use of child soldiers, an increase from six countries at the start of Obama’s presidency. Only three were restricted from aid this year—the ones which weren’t in line to receive military aid anyway. Let’s hope we can put pressure on our next president to make this more of a priority.