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Help is On the Way: Support for the Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2017
When someone mentions “child trafficking,” my thoughts turn to the issues IJM works on in the field: rescuing girls from sex establishments in Southeast Asia or little boys off Lake Volta in Ghana. There is another form of trafficked child labor that I’ve become familiar with through the work of good friends in the anti-trafficking community: child soldiers. Thanks to the work of Child Soldiers International, Human Rights Watch, Open Society Foundations and others the exploitation of children in the world’s worst workplaces–its battlefields–has come to light. And good friends in Congress are doing something about it.
Congress first enacted legislation on child soldiers in 2008, the Child Soldiers Prevention Act. The legislation required the State Department to name countries where governments (or armed groups supported by governments) recruited or deployed children in conflict situations and prohibited them from receiving military aid.
But the Child Soldiers Protection Act (as is usual in legislation limiting executive action) contained a waiver on national security grounds. Every year since enactment, President Obama waived the prohibition on most of the military aid going to child soldier-abusing nations.
The Washington Post reported: “The Obama administration has given more than $1.2 billion in military assistance and arms to governments that use child soldiers since the law was enacted and withheld only $61 million, according to the Stimson Center.”
Another loophole allowed the State Department to shield Afghanistan because young children are recruited by police, not the Afghan army. The distinction is without a difference for those kids who were killed when police clashed with Taliban forces.
According to Rep. Smith (R-NJ), “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.”
Help is on the way, thanks to the good work of Reps. Chris Smith and cosponsors Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Randy Hultgren (R-IL) and Randy Weber (R-TX). On February 16, the members of Congress introduced the Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2017 (H.R. 1191).
The bill, if passed, will amend the original Child Soldiers Prevention Act to include child exploitation by police and tightens the waiver provision. It also authorizes increased reporting on child soldiers by the State Department in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report.
Although IJM does not ourselves work in conflict areas where children are recruited and deployed, we salute those who do. We are proud to join our sister and brother organizations in the religious, development and human rights communities in urging Congress to address the problem. Our joint letter appears here.