WEST PALM BEACH, Fl. (November 2, 2010) — President Obama today accepted a State Department recommendation and granted a waiver on the prohibition against conscription of child soldiers to Sudan, Chad, Yemen, and the Congo. All four countries forcibly recruit adolescents into military service, removing them from families and homes to fight anti-government forces. Child soldiers frequently are killed in combat, die from malnutrition, are abused by senior “officers,” and face isolation, hunger, and fear.
The order waived the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which President George W. Bush signed into law before leaving office. The law prohibits the US government from providing support to countries that force teenagers into military service. However, the law provides a loophole that President Obama exercised; countries can receive a waiver from the White House.
According to the White House, cutting off aid would cause more harm to the already suffering countries. Moreover, President Obama cited national security concerns, saying the four countries need US military aid to continue to fight Al Qaeda. The White House also stated that the waiver did not signal acceptance of child soldier policies, nor does it indicate it is ending pressure on the countries to stop conscription of children.
The Administration says it only decided to continue aid after reviewing strides by the government’s to improve.
“These countries have put the right policies in place,” according to State Department Spokesperson P.J. Crowley “but are struggling to correctly implement them.”
The White House claims that the waivers act as a warning for all four countries to change child soldier practices before the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, implying that the waiver will end if there has not been significant progress at that point.
Human Rights groups, however, unanimously oppose the waiver. They note that the official policy appears to condone the activity, even if that was not the intention, and that there is little stimulus for the countries to change.
One alternative would have been to sanction the countries and condemn their child soldier policies, but allow certain programs aimed at military professionalization, training, or other programs. This would have sent a strong message against the practice, but preserved US interest in the countries.
Instead, President Obama – who supported the legislation as a sentator – may have lost an opportunity to demonstrate serious US human rights concerns and to act as leader in the war against human rights atrocities.
Lisa has an undergraduate degree in International Relations from George Mason University and a graduate degree in Foreign Affairs from The University of Virginia. She spent 11 years as an analyst with the federal government. She is part owner of a research and analysis company, C2 Research, LLC, which specializes in complex research and analysis. Lisa is also a freelance writer, contributing to Donne Tempo Magazine.
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