Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Toward a New Foreign Policy

Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Toward a New Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

Key Recommendations

* In policy and action, the U.S. should follow international attempts to raise the minimum age for soldiering to 18.

* The State Department and Congress should examine the problem of child soldiers and should use State Department reports to monitor progress and take action.

* Congress and the State Department should deny military aid, transfers, training, and sales to groups using child soldiers; aid should instead address root socioeconomic problems and the reintegration of child soldiers into civil society.

Strong international norms can provide a critical basis to prevent and stop the use and recruitment of children as soldiers. To this end, the U.S. should ratify all treaties relating to child soldiers: the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions, the CRC, the ICC, and the Optional Protocol to the CRC (with 18 specified as the minimum age for voluntary recruits). Once ratified, these conventions should be incorporated into U.S. national legislation and programs. In keeping with international trends, the Defense Department and Congress should raise the U.S. recruitment age to 18 and ensure that presently enlisted 17-year-olds are not deployed to potential combat zones.

In addition, the U.S., with its stated commitment to human rights, should help to establish prompt, objective monitoring and effective enforcement of agreements regarding child soldiers, particularly through the existing UN Commission on the Rights of the Child. U.S. embassy staff and other U.S.-supported personnel abroad should be educated on national and international laws regarding the use of children as soldiers and should report on violations of international law.

Information on child soldiers should be included in State Department country reports, where present coverage is spotty (the House recently adopted such language in the State Department Authorization bill). Congressional hearings involving the State and Defense departments should examine the problem, monitor progress, and lead to vocal and active measures against countries or groups using child soldiers. Congress should authorize the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor to report on establishing and implementing this guideline as a condition for anyone receiving military aid, transfers, and training.

Congress should also examine war practices that increase the likelihood of children becoming soldiers. Children at risk should be identified and provided with peace education programs and cautions about child soldiering and its consequences. Efforts should be undertaken to mitigate the conflict-specific factors that put children at risk of becoming child soldiers.

Additionally, U.S. aid should focus on universal access to basic education, food security, and primary health care, important factors in keeping children out of conflict. Countries should not be enticed to spend precious resources on weapons. Rather, they should be encouraged to invest in sustainable development programs that will protect the lives of children.

The U.S. must take responsibility for the ways in which its own laws and practices foster the use of child soldiers and warfare against children. Congress should explore how U.S. training and weapons aid facilitate the use of child soldiers. …

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