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Human Rights Watch’s Jo Becker: The U.S. Can Do More to Keep Children Off the Battlefield

[This blog originally appeared on the Huffington Post on 10/04/2012]

President Barack Obama announced on Friday that, for the second year in a row, it was withholding portions of U.S. military assistance from the Democratic Republic of Congo because of its continued use of child soldiers. The U.S. also said it wouldn’t train a Congolese light infantry battalion until Congo signed an action plan with the United Nations to end its use of child soldiers. U.S. officials have repeatedly urged the Congolese government to address the issue.

The pressure seems to be working. After seven years of foot-dragging, today Congo finally signed the U.N. plan, which will require Congo to end child recruitment, demobilize children in its forces and allow U.N. verification visits to its barracks.

For years, Congo has ranked among the worst countries for child soldiers. At the height of the conflict there, the U.N. estimated that as many as 30,000 children were participating in the war. Today, hundreds each year are still recruited in eastern Congo, by both government and rebel forces. Children who have escaped or been released often fear they will be forced into service again.

The U.S. has withheld assistance from Congo under a landmark law, the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which prohibits U.S. military assistance to governments using child soldiers. In contrast it has, often on national security grounds, allowed other governments using child soldiers to continue receiving such aid, without conditions. Three examples — Chad, South Sudan and Yemen — show how the U.S. has missed opportunities to protect children from military service.

In Chad, government and rebel forces recruited thousands of children in a proxy war with Sudan that ended in early 2010. With U.S. pressure, the Chadian government signed a U.N. action plan in June 2011 to end child recruitment and demobilize all children from its forces. Child recruitment significantly dropped, with no new cases recorded in 2011. In June, the U.S. took Chad off its list of countries subject to possible sanctions under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, despite reports that children remained in Chad’s forces.

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UN reports ‘grave violations’ against children in Chad including child soldiers and rapes

By Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press | The Canadian Press – Tue, 15 Feb, 2011 7:46 PM EST

A U.N. task force has documented “grave violations” against children in the poverty-stricken central African nation of Chad including recruitment of child soldiers, deaths and injuries, and sexual violence against girls, according to a report circulated Tuesday.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in the report to the Security Council that the level and extent of attacks in Chad in 2010 were not as high as 2009 but were still “unacceptable.”
The report, covering the period from July 2008 to December 2010, said boys and girls as young as 12 years old are still being recruited by the Chadian National Army and armed groups and warned that rape and sexual violence continue to be “a widespread phenomenon.”
Eastern Chad has suffered a spillover from the Darfur conflict in part because many rebels come from tribes that overlap the Chad and Sudan border. Some Darfur rebels have had bases in Chad, and the Chadian groups have had bases in Sudan, but cross-border fighting has been limited for about a year because the two governments have improved relations.

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A dozen nations added to U.S. Government child, forced labor list (AP)


WASHINGTON — The Labor Department is adding a dozen countries to the list of nations that use child labor or forced labor, as officials warn the global economic crisis could cause an upswing in the exploitation of children and other workers.

From coffee grown in El Salvador to sapphires mined in Madagascar, the agency’s latest reports, to be released Wednesday, identify 128 goods from 70 countries where child labor, forced labor or both are used in violation of international standards.

“Shining light on these problems is a first step toward motivating governments, the private sector and concerned citizens to take action to end these intolerable abuses that have no place in our modern world,” said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

New to the list are Angola, Central African Republic, Chad, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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The US Blinks, and Children Will Suffer

[Blog, originally from the Huffington Post]

Jo Becker
Children’s Rights Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch
Posted: November 9, 2010 10:07 AM

Until recently, the United States might have been considered a world leader in combating the use of child soldiers. But after events last month, children victimized in war may need to look elsewhere for help.
The United States has spent millions of dollars supporting the rehabilitation of former child soldiers in countries like Afghanistan, Colombia, and Sierra Leone. It enacted groundbreaking legislation enabling the United States to prosecute child soldier recruiters entering the United States, and to withhold US military assistance from governments that use child soldiers. In 2002, it joined an important international treaty that prohibits the use of children under 18 as combatants. It even changed its military deployment practices to set a good example. These actions put it on the forefront of international efforts to end one of the most heinous aspects of modern warfare.
But last month President Obama issued an order allowing US military assistance to governments that use child soldiers, undermining a law he voted for as a Senator just two years ago. Also last month, the US became the first Western nation since World War II to convict a former child soldier of war crimes.

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