Moral Low Ground


For 4th Straight Year, Obama Approves Military Aid to Countries Using Child Soldiers

Child soldier, Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo: CSITDRC)

Child soldier, Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo: CSITDRC)

For the fourth straight year, President Barack Obama has granted waivers from the Child Soldiers Prevention Act to a handful of African and Arab nations allowing them to continue receiving US military aid despite the fact that they use child soldiers.

The Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA), signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008, bans US military aid to nations in which children under the age of 18 are employed in the armed forces. The CSPA contains a ‘national interest waiver’ clause which permits the president to ignore the aforementioned prohibition if it is determined that granting military assistance to nations which violate the law is in the US national interest.

When Obama first waived the CSPA in order to continue aid to Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Yemen in 2010, he promised that such action was a one-off. But in 2011, the president shocked much of the world when he once again granted waivers to the same nations. He did so yet again in 2012, when South Sudan, Libya and Yemen were waived, and the Democratic Republic of Congo was granted a partial waiver.

This year, Chad, South Sudan and Yemen received full waivers, allowing them to receive unlimited US military aid. The Democratic Republic of Congo was again granted a partial waiver, allowing training and ‘non-lethal’ aid to continue. Somalia was also granted a partial waiver.

In Chad, where as recently as 2007 government forces were using children as young as 8 years old, the United Nations has found that children are still being recruited into the armed forces. The number of child soldiers has decreased dramatically following the end of the nation’s 2005-2010 civil war, however, and Chad is considered a valuable ally in Washington’s war against terrorism.

In South Sudan, the UN last year counted around 2,000 children serving in the nation’s nascent armed forces. The nation’s government has promised to end the use of child soldiers.

In Yemen, the UN has found that children as young as 13 are being recruited into the nation’s armed forces. Pro-government militias are also employing 13-year-olds. Yemeni forces and allied militias are battling an Islamist insurgency with the assistance of US air strikes targeting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The CSPA prohibits aid to nations whose militaries or affiliated militias employ child soldiers.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), hundreds of children, including girls, have been recruited by government forces and associated militias. According to Human Rights Watch, the Congolese armed forces routinely kidnap girls for use as sex slaves, and rape is commonly used as a weapon of war to terrorize and subdue the population. The CSPA prohibits aid to nations whose militaries or affiliated militias exploit children for sexual purposes, including slavery.

In what critics are calling an act of stunning hypocrisy, the Obama administration slapped sanctions on neighboring Rwanda due to its support for M23, a Congolese anti-government rebel group, just days after announcing it would partially waive CSPA penalties against the Congolese government despite its use of child soldiers and child sex slaves.

In Somalia, the transitional federal government signed a 2012 pledge vowing to halt the recruitment of child soldiers. But according to the UN, the practice continues, with 16-year-old boys being reported among the ranks of the armed forces. Government-allied militias also recruit child soldiers as young as 15. Hundreds of children have also been raped by government and allied forces, which are engaged in an existential battle against Islamist militants. The United States is also fighting Al Shabaab and al-Qaeda in Somalia and considers the fragile transitional government an ally.

According to the US State Department, the following 10 nations currently employ child soldiers (nations that are receiving, or have received, US military aid through Obama’s CSPA waivers are in italics):  Burma (Myanmar), Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Obama’s decision to allow military aid to nations using child soldiers and rape as a weapon of war stands in stark contradiction with an executive order he signed last year aimed at combatting human trafficking.

“When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed– that’s slavery,” Obama said in an address  at a Clinton Global Initiative event last year. “It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world. Now, as a nation, we’ve long rejected such cruelty.”

Unless, that is, Obama determines such cruelty to be in the ‘national interest’ of the United States.

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