Leah Bolger, President of Veterans For Peace, applauded a United Nations Committee this week for raising concerns about the recruitment of children into the U.S. military, the U.S. killing of children in Afghanistan, the U.S. detention and torture of children labeled “combatants,” and the provision of weapons by the United States to other nations employing child soldiers.
While the United States is one of only three countries, along with Somalia and South Sudan, not to have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it has ratified and made part of its law the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which requires special protections for any military recruits under the age of 18.
The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child has asked for additional information related to the Second Periodic Report of the United States to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, (OPAC). The United States has until November 16, 2012, to respond.
The Committee cites concerns regarding the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) programs operating in U.S. schools, the recruiting provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), a test administered to 660,000 children in 14,000 U.S. high schools each year.
The Protocol calls for the recruitment of minors to be done with the “informed consent of the child’s parents or legal guardians.” Two programs operate in U.S. high schools that clearly violate this section of the treaty. One is the administration of ASVAB. The other is the No Child Left Behind Act’s requirement that schools provide recruiters with children’s names and contact information. The law lacks any mechanism to enforce a requirement that schools offer parents a way to opt out.
“Our military,” said Bolger, “spends billions of our dollars every year on advertising and recruitment. We have rallies that combine the military with Cub Scouts, complete with giant inflatable soldiers entertaining the kids. We send impressive uniformed officers into kindergartens. We send recruiters into schools where the vast majority of the students are minors. Our military sponsors NASCAR race cars, flies jets over football games, and invests in Hollywood movies and video games that make killing look like the coolest and most extreme sporting event. Students are tested in many of our public schools, and the results fed to recruiters without the knowledge of the students or their parents. We invest so much in recruitment of every soldier, that we could have spent the money paying them to rebuild our country.”
“That we are doing this to children,” Bolger added, “is beyond outrageous. We object to cigarette companies targeting the young and vulnerable. Should we not object as strongly to the war machine doing the same — particularly when we are legally committed to protecting our children from recruitment?”
The U.N. Committee also requests information on Afghanistan and Iraq, writing, “In view of the large number of children who have died in the on going armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq . . . please inform the Committee of measures taken by [the United States] to ensure respect for the fundamental principles of proportionality and distinction between military objects and civilians and to establish accountability for violations of international humanitarian law. Please also provide precise information on the results of any investigation conducted into the killing of children reported by UNAMA [the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] over the reporting period.”
The committee requests that the United States provide information on children detained since 2008 and currently held in U.S. prisons in Afghanistan, as well as on particular children who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo, including Omar Kadr and Mohammed Jawad.
“That the United Nations continues to raise these concerns is heartening,” said Bolger. “But the international community can hardly keep up with the changes in U.S. policies and attitudes. President Obama has targeted and killed children, including U.S. citizens with drone strikes, as part of a program already objected to by another branch of the United Nations. Have we no shame? As we contemplate new wars justified in the name of human rights, have we, at long last, no remaining shame?”