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Morton Mintz: Child Soldiering: an Ongoing Form of Abuse

Posted at 9:05 am, May 22nd, 2007
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What is “[p]ossibly the world’s most unrecognized form of child abuse”? It’s child soldiering, “[t]his horrifying new face of armed conflict.” Does the United States oppose or aid and abet it? And are there reporters out there who will ask questions about what has “become a defining feature of modern warfare”?

The answers to the first two questions can be found in “The New Face of Warfare, a review of three books about child soldiering. “In more than three-fourths of armed conflicts around the world today,” writes the reviewer, Fatin Abbas, a doctoral candidate in comparative literature at Harvard University, “there are significant numbers of child combatants.” He continues:

At any one time, there are more than 300,000 child soldiers serving with nonstate armed groups. In addition, more than fifty states actively recruit hundreds of thousands of soldiers under 18, in contravention of international law.

It is in Africa, considered to be the epicenter of the child soldier phenomenon, that child soldiering is most widespread. Where there is conflict on the continent, one can be sure that children will be found right in the middle of it.

In the 1991-2001 civil war between Sierra Leone’s government and the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), as many as 80 percent of all fighters were between the ages of 7 and 14. In the two waves of civil war that engulfed Liberia between 1989 and 2003, up to 70 percent of government and rebel combatants were children.

In the recent war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), ignited in 1996 by Laurent Kabila’s revolt against Mobutu’s regime, roughly half the fighters (between 30,000 and 50,000) were child soldiers. Perhaps the group most notorious for its exploitation of child soldiers is the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda, which has been waging a bloody war against the government for almost eighteen years.

Has the United States done anything to combat such evil exploitations of children? To the contrary, Abbas writes,

The United States has played a particularly shameful role in blocking almost every international effort aimed at curtailing child soldiering. Not only is it one of two countries (along with Somalia) that have refused to ratify the CRC; in recent years it has opposed international efforts to limit the illicit trade in small arms, the very trade that is fueling so many of the conflicts in which child soldiers are involved.

An example of the U.S. role comes from the 2001 United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms. “At the conference,” Abbas writes, citing one of the books under review, “Children at War,” by P.W. Singer, Abbas says that “the National Rifle Association successfully lobbied the Bush Administration to oppose any UN measures to make international small arms sales more transparent.”

Abbas comments. “How regulations on the international trade in small arms could affect Americans’ right to tote guns–the NRA’s fixation–is inexplicable.”

Rather than let it go at that, shouldn’t reporters be asking the NRA and its allies in the Bush administration and Congress for an explanation?

The International Criminal Court, established five years ago to prosecute those responsible for human rights abuses and war crimes, is “another international instrument with the potential to counter the exploitation of child soldiers,” Abbas points out. “The ICC’s mandate treats the use of child soldiers as a war crime and allows for the prosecution and punishment of armed group leaders who exploit children.”

Does the United States support the ICC’s effort? Sadly, no: “In its crusade to exempt itself from any sort of international accountability, however, the United States has been rabidly opposed to the ICC, going out of its way to impugn the court’s credibility.”

But why doesn’t the United States support treating as war criminals armed group leaders who use children as soldiers? It’s the kind of question that ought be asked—persistently—at the White House.

Will it be?

2 Responses to “Child Soldiering: an Ongoing Form of Abuse”

  1. Child Soldiering: an Ongoing Form of Abuse | Talk Utopia says:

    [...] Original post by Morton Mintz Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. [...]

  2. eliza says:

    Just one correction: Fatin Abbas is a very talented woman writer.

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